A waxed-cotton jacket isn't something to wax nostalgic about. Or is it? Tamia thinks it is, especially when the jacket in question has accompanied her on trips afoot and afloat for more than a quarter of a century. Which is why she's offering this eulogy for an old friend.
December 13, 2016
Ours is a consumer economy. If I ever had any doubts on that score, they were put to rest by then New York City Mayor Rudolf (Rudy) Giuliani, in the days immediately following the September 11th attacks, back in 2001. With nearly 3,000 lying dead under the rubble, and a still‑smoldering gap in his city's skyline, what did Rudy urge his fellow Americans to do? To unsheathe their credit cards and hit the shops, that's what. His message was clear: When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. And though this rallying cry falls a little short of Thomas Paine's soaring cadences, if you view it as a prescription for national economic survival in the 21st century, Rudy's message was probably right on the mark.
But I came of age in another time. In the small farm town where I grew up, people thought that "making do" was part and parcel of what it meant to be a patriot. My grandparents and many of their neighbors had lived through the privations of the Great Depression and the ration‑book stringencies of the Second World War. They didn't see much point in shopping till they dropped. Their watchwords were "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." This was a very different world than the one we live in today, obviously. Back then, Americans were producers, first and foremost, not consumers. American factories still made most of the things that were for sale in the stores, many families got by with only one car, and traveling to some far‑distant destination by air was a once‑in‑a‑lifetime treat. On school trips, my classmates and I didn't jet off to Paris. We spent the morning at a local farm.
The country has moved on since those days, of course, and wearing things out is passé. It's, like, so yesterday. I don't have to look far to find the evidence. Every spring, the thrift shop racks in the nearby college town fill up with nearly new student castoffs. The faculty contribute their share to this seasonal largesse, too. No one wears the same clothes for two years running, it seems. Well, no. That's not quite true. Not all of us have moved on to the broad, sunlit uplands of perpetual consumption. Not quite. A few hard cases still place function ahead of fashion and think that frugality is a virtue.
Like me. And there are some items of clothing that I'll keep wearing till they fall in tatters around my feet. Take my old Orvis waxed‑cotton wading jacket. I've forgotten exactly when I bought it, but it was at least 30 years ago, and it came from the Manchester, Vermont, store. In those days, I made semiannual pilgrimages to this holy place — once in the spring and again in the fall — treading a well‑worn path between the cabinets containing vintage side‑by‑sides (I had a brief, unconsummated flirtation with a lovely Churchill XXV) and the racks of fly rods. In other words, in those days I was a patriot à la mode, a consumer of whom the nation could be justly proud.
Many years have passed since I last put a covey to flight or fished fine and far off, however. Yet I still wear my Orvis jacket nearly every day that our steamy New Model Climate permits. It's perfect for dark, late‑autumn evenings, when a chill mist rises from the falls along The River and creeps stealthily down the valley. To be sure, the threadbare fabric no longer defies the swirling damp. And the pockets, which once swallowed bulky Wheatley fly boxes without protest, are now more hole than pocket. But these wounds aren't mortal. The wool lining is as warm as it ever was, the zipper — a stout brass affair — never jams, and the jacket's abbreviated length means I can take full strides without having my legs hobbled by redundant folds of fabric. (It's also just the right length for wear in a kayak.)
In short, my Orvis jacket is a testament to the wisdom of "form follows function" tailoring. Oh, yes… It has one other virtue: The jacket smells wonderful. Three decades of woodsmoke, steaming coffee, and crushed bracken have melded with a remnant tang of wax to leave an indelible olfactory signature. It reminds me of my Grandad's camp. But now, like its owner, it's showing its age. Nothing lasts forever, after all. And the day when my jacket will have to be retired is fast approaching. See for yourself:
That will be a sad day, indeed. Not only will it feel like saying goodbye to an old friend for the last time, but I'll need to find a replacement. Waxed‑cotton jackets are now luxury goods and priced accordingly. They're out of my reach. (I bought mine — it was the last of a discontinued model, if I remember correctly — at a knockdown price.) As for the polychromatic plastic offerings on the racks in MallMart, the less said about them, the better. They're certainly cheap and cheerful, but I can't see myself choosing one as my constant companion. I'd rather not play harlequin on life's stage just yet. So I'll have to hope some musty, neglected corner of a surplus store holds something suitable, at a price I can afford.
Fortunately, though, the final parting of the ways is not yet at hand. Tattered and torn my old jacket may well be, but it still has a season or two of life left in it. And when the last day comes, as it must inevitably come, I'll hang the jacket behind the boatshed, so birds and mice can tease the warm wool from its lining for their nests. In the fullness of time, nothing will survive but a few fragments of corroding metal, and I can then take solace in the fact that, unlike its plastic counterparts, my Orvis jacket will soon have rotted and returned to the earth, rather than hanging around for centuries to litter the landscape and poison the seas.
For now, though, my jacket remains in its place of honor in my closet, ready to accompany me on excursions afoot and afloat, as it has done for more than half my lifetime. I've never been one to abandon old friends for new faces on a whim, and I see no reason to change. "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." If I have to have a motto to live by, and I suppose we all do, that's a lot better than "when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping."
Sorry, Rudy: Call me a sunshine shopper if you want, but I'm afraid the consumer economy will just have to get along without me for a little while longer.
Questions? Comments? Got something to add? Then e‑mail Tamia.
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- "The Things We Carry: A Paddler's Talismans"
- "L.L. and Me: Walking a Mile in My (Old) Shoes"
- "Dressing for Success, on the Water and Off"
- "Getting Fleeced: Dressing for 21st Century Amphibious Ops"
- "Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain: Tips on Winning the Shell Game"
- "On Fishing Fine, and Far Off: A Chance Cast Hooks Some Memories"
- "Waxed Cotton" (Wikipedia)
Copyright © 2016 by Verloren Hoop. The moral rights of the author have been asserted.