Funny how some objects evoke lasting memories, the best of those are warm. When we see them, touch them, we smile and are taken back. The very best are those are enduring objects that last forever. We live in a disposable world, we buy electronic things designed for planned obsolescence, our food comes in things we throw away-clothes are designed and made to last a season or two. There are really two kinds of people in the world when it comes to buying things: those that try to find something cheap that will work for awhile and those that look for the best out there (and simply go without if they can’t obtain it). I would say I am one of the latter. Last month, guided by the description in a catalogue and fancying a cool logo on the chest, I bought an expensive oxford cloth shirt from a boutique. It was made in the USA (that’s good) and they had a lot to say about their product. Truth be told, two washings and five wearings later, that shirt has threads popping everywhere, has lost a button, the cut is awkward, the hand of the cloth is weird and feels itchy– I got taken on that one.
So one of the things I own that is precious to me is a Filson Tin Cloth field coat that I bought my freshman year of college at a sports-shop that was going out of business. I have to admit that it was not the right size. Back then it was about five or six chest sizes bigger than me, but it was a steal so I bought it. So back when I was a spindly, wiry-limbed fellow, it fit me like a sock on a rooster’s foot– but something about that cool, stiff canvas made it a staple when I went out. I’m pretty sure you can buy a wool liner that buttons into the jacket, but back then, I’d throw a fleece under it. Over time, with a fleece and a few more pounds, it started to fit. You see, if it is cold at all, you have to put something under these jackets to keep warm- they are by definition a shell. This jacket is a shell to repel water with its deeply penetrated coat of wax; it is a shell to break the wind; it is a shell to hold a pocket knife, a box of shotshells, a few dead birds in the back.
Some nights in college, I would wear that jacket around downtown Chapel Hill. I thought it looked pretty damn smart with a pair of jeans and boots and a white oxford– that to me sorta said: I’m a clean cut boy, but that little red stain along the back pocket, it’s the real deal. And about blood stains- I never will forget a fall break and leaving that jacket on a hook in the mud room of my momma’s house. It turns out that is where the laundry machine is and like all good momma’s, when she saw that jacket she washed it. On the label, where it says: Wipe or Brush Clean Only, they mean it. The bloody spots and a few grass stains on the elbow came out and most of the crumbs from orange nabs seemed to go away from the pockets- but the coat was not the same. You see, these things are full of wax. So full of wax you would not recognize it when it is stripped of it. That wax makes them water repellant, but even more than that, it gives them that unique musky smell (you would have to smell one to understand). That wax gives it an iconic appearance. That wax makes the canvas stiff, especially in cooler temperatures, in fact it is so stiff that the jacket can practically stand up on its own; so stiff it feels like you have on some exoskeleton (yes, I am cheating a bit writing about a nearly bullet proof article of clothing as enduring).
So that jacket has been with me twenty years now. (It turns out it was a bit fun to re-wax it with a heat gun and a tub of Filson wax.) I’ve chopped wood with it in the mountains, worn it in the brush for deer camp work days, it’s been through briars hunting rabbits, high grass and brush pushing up pheasants. I lost it, buried in the trunk of my car. It didn’t get any action this year. I bought a replacement. The pockets are better. It still has the same shooting patch, the same bellow pockets and shell loops, it still has the deep pocket in the back for quarry. It also has a nice place for my dog transmitter, hand warmer pockets, and a zipper, not just buttons– and it is actually my true size. It was a real shame to find my old jacket in the trunk, I felt like I had cheated on it. So it still will get plenty of time in the field.