3. The Coat

There is a scene toward the end of La Boheme where one of Mimi and Rodolpho’s artist friends sells his coat to raise money for the consumptive Mimi’s medicine. They are freezing in a garret in Paris and it is an act of pure sacrifice and love. He sings a beautiful aria to the coat, thanking it for all the warmth and comfort it has provided. There is never a dry eye in the house.

There is a coat drive taking place in my town. Bins are groaning with contributions, but still I knew that my closet held items that needed to be donated. I carefully folded a few old jackets of mine and a lovely little furry stole the girls wore ages ago with their fancy Christmas dresses. Then it was time for the big decision. The only item of Tom’s clothing that I had not been able to give away or repurpose was his dress overcoat. It was a funny huge thing, sized extra-large although he really wasn’t, bought from Eddie Bauer decades ago and still in perfect shape; gray and brown tweed with a brown leather collar and buttons. He wore it to church and any other dress-up winter occasion and just looking at it conjured the image of him in an instant. When we met he had been away from church for many years, but no matter how many times I said I was fine going alone, and despite his great fondness for a long slow wake up on the weekends, he always said, “I want to go.” And often that meant wearing the big overcoat.

Maybe because it was such an unusual item or because no male friend or relative wanted it or because I can still picture him wearing it—for whatever reason it is still hanging in the front hall closet 9 months after he died. Winter is coming and someone could be kept very warm by that coat. Tom would want someone to enjoy its warmth, I am sure of that. But as I folded it and started to put it in the bag I held it close, just like the bass in Boheme, and spoke right out loud to Tom, telling him how much I missed him, all the specific things I missed about him, how much I wished he was still here to wear the coat, but how now it was time for me to pass it on. Someplace he was saying, “Yes, it’s time. Let it go.”

Today I delivered the bag of coats to the Recreation Center. I liked picturing a little girl in the stole, a thinner, younger woman than I in my jackets and some man, whose face I can’t quite see, smiling at the handsome tweed and heavy warmth of Tom’s old overcoat. Wear it in good health, sir. It belonged to a prince among men.

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