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When Old Clothes Become Old Friends

by Tamia Nelson

Who'd have thought that a column on old clothes would resonate with readers? But that's just what Tamia's recent "Eulogy for an Old Friend" did. So she's revisiting the theme today, with more than a little help from some reflective paddlers.

February 28, 2017

Article by Tamia NelsonI can never tell what will strike a chord with readers. Which means that I'm often surprised by the number of e-mails I receive. That was certainly the case in the days after "Eulogy for an Old Friend" aired last December. After all, a sentimental tribute to a torn and threadbare jacket isn't exactly click bait. Or so I thought. But I was wrong. My electronic mailbox soon overflowed with thoughtful letters. These ranged in tone from the no-nonsense pragmatic to the downright lyrical, all of them shedding new light on a subject I thought I'd already exhausted. And so, with the writers' permission, I'm going to pass a few of those e-mails along, beginning with some good advice from Art Hildebrandt on a very practical matter:


His e-mail was short and to the point:

"I'm sure you already know this, but thought I'd remind you, anyway. L.L.Bean still sells waxed-cotton jackets. Four different styles for women also. The prices seem outlandish, but I'll make a bet that if you figured for inflation they'd be near what you paid so many years ago."

And Art is right. You often get what you pay for, and high prices are certainly warranted when a garment will last for many years. But you have to "climb the hill" (i.e., come up with the ready cash) before you can enjoy the long view ahead, and that puts L.L.Bean's waxed-cotton jackets off-limits. For me, at any rate. I was lucky to get my pricey Orvis jacket at a deep discount, at a time when my labor commanded a hundred bucks an hour. Those days are long gone: I am now a certified pinchpenny paddler. So I'll have to look elsewhere for a replacement—and anyway, that day hasn't yet come.

Old Friends

Call it sentimentality, if you wish, but even if price were no object,…


Doris Osburn understands this:

"Oh gosh, Tamia! I really loved your article and can so identify with the connection that exists between you and your jacket. Mine is a flannel buffalo plaid, zip-up J. C. Penny affair I bought probably 30 years ago. It went with me everywhere when we lived in Ohio, and it had a place of honor hanging on the back of the driver's seat of a Jeep Wrangler I owned for 21 years -- and a previous one I owned for five years. During all seasons, that was its place, and the sun pretty much turned the black on the left side into an interesting shade of brown."
"I have always loved buffalo plaid and have many times eyed a lovely, brightly colored replacement, but realized that no new jacket, however wonderful, would replace the memories my old jacket holds, so it now hangs on the back of my Mazda 3 driver's seat, ready to be used whenever needed, which won't be tons since we now live in Florida. It is a constant reminder of wonderful times gone by, and I have come to the conclusion that it will probably last as long as I will."

Doris and I are kindred spirits. When a favorite safari jacket became so threadbare that it could no longer be worn, I buttoned it over the back of the driver's seat in Lili, our old VW Beetle and sometime boat car, where it served as a seat cover for as long as Lilli herself lasted.

Sentimentality? Yes. Folly? Maybe. But who among us is wholly rational, or would even wish to be? And old clothes are more than rags in the making:


Richard McClary puts this succinctly:

"I have a North Face mountain parka I received in 1978. Some stitching is gone, and in places (like the edge of the collar) the fabric is worn through or tearing. Your essay sums up why I cannot stand the thought of trashing it. Besides, I don't think one can get one of those anymore. Thanks!"

Richard, too, is a kindred spirit. Early in my climbing career, I purchased a Sierra Designs 60/40 parka. It was my constant companion in the mountains of my youth. But sturdy as it was, it couldn't defy sheets of flame, and a Christmas Eve fire reduced it to ashes. A long time elapsed before I was able to replace it, and though the replacement filled the gap in my pack, it couldn't fill the void in my heart. A piece of my life history had been lost, never to be restored.

On a more cheerful note, the last half of the 20th century saw dramatic changes in outdoor clothing and climbing gear. These were indeed revolutionary years. And anyone who's curious about this time of ferment and innovation owes it to herself (or himself) to check out The History of Gear Project pages. They're not just a treasure trove for nostalgia buffs. Some of the old gear was very good—sturdy, functional, and a pleasure to look at—and much of it could be recreated today by industrious paddlers of any age who think it worthwhile to go back to the future.

Returning to the subject of sentimental attachment, there's probably none stronger than the bond formed when the item in question came from a parent or absent friend. Such legacies are among the most affecting…


Keith Kelley knows all about this:

"Thank you for this one, Tamia. It put some words to the feeling that explains why I'm still enjoying my father's Johnson wool red and black plaid cruiser. He got it 50 or 60 years ago when I was in my late teens or twenties, and I remember wandering around the northern hills of Vermont with him while he wore it. Now it warms me twice as I wear it tromping through the snow."

My grandad also had a favorite red and black cruiser. It almost never left his back, and on his death, it passed to my mom, who wore it until it was little more than tatters, at which point it was retired to serve as the lining for a dog bed. All in all, my grandad's cruiser stayed in the family for most of century. Not a bad innings, as they say.

Of course, as important as sentiment and sentimentality are in molding who we are and what we do, there are other reasons why paddlers might want to hang on to their old clothes, and the last e-mail makes it clear that one of these is…


Mind you, that's temperance as in moderation and self-restraint, not temperance as in teetotalism. I'm not ready to give up my evening glass of plonk. But self-restraint and moderation lie at the heart of paddlesport. Canoeists and kayakers (and sailors, as well) voluntarily eschew the easy life of internal combustion, at least for an hour or two, in favor of the harder work of self-propulsion. We "do without" things for the fun of it, in other words—things that most people find convenient or even necessary. Randy Ahrens puts it this way:

"Just finished reading your article, and as one who shares your mantra of 'use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,' I just wanted to let you know how refreshing it is to read your writings that reflect timeless values regarding 'old, tried and true' goods that have stood the test of time and don't belong in the here today, gone tomorrow category. Your In the Same Boat articles have provided excellent reading, and your recognition of values and your aversion to the consumer society are to be applauded and supported. Keep up the good work; you're doing a wonderful job!"

What can I say? Other than "Thanks!" that is. Randy's e-mail sums up the message of my original article (and of our hopes for In the Same Boat, as well) rather neatly, and I think I'll leave it at that. Until next week, at any rate.

Questions? Comments? Got something to add? Then why not e-mail Tamia?

In case you're wondering: In the Same Boat never accepts payment for product endorsements, nor do we accept product samples from manufacturers or their representatives. We write about gear and books we've purchased, rented, or borrowed (from friends, family, or the public library), though on rare occasions we'll write a product analysis of something we don't own and have never used, based solely on the manufacturer's claims, published specifications, or others' experiences. But whenever we do that, we'll tell you.

Copyright © 2017 by Verloren Hoop. The moral rights of the author have been asserted.

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