I first discovered these windbreakers back in July with Reiten Equipment printed on them. They were a flash from the past. Patricia, my bestie from West Fargo High School, was with me at the time. We were trying to create order in one of the two upstairs bedrooms at the lake where Mom and Dad lived. They don’t use those bedrooms. It’s where their adult kids stay when we visit. Mom and Dad have a palatial bedroom downstairs that only Dad sleeps in now.
Mom passed away last spring. Dad was contemplating moving to Briarwood, an assisted living facility in Perham for the winter months. I can speak for the whole family: we really wanted to see him out of the lake house come winter.
Patricia and I took Dad and visited Briarwood. They had one apartment available. It’s a nice place. I was positive, but not pushy. I’d stopped butting into Dad’s business, trying to influence him about decisions now that Mom was gone. He’s his own man. Once in a while he will acknowledge that maybe he’s even close to being old, but not often.
I played a “what if” game with him the morning after our visit. “Well, if you were to go to Briarwood for the winter, what furniture would you take with you?” I was secretly hoping he’d visualize himself there.
He said, “Oh, I wouldn’t touch anything here. I’d have to get new things. I don’t need much. I’d be back in the spring anyway.”
“Well, Dad, I’m just brainstorming, but what if you took the furniture from the upstairs bedroom, the one where Brent usually sleeps? There’s a bed, a set of drawers, a vanity and a love seat up there. It’s very comfortable. It would look nice in the living room of your apartment. And you could take the table that’s in the front porch and put that in the kitchen. How about that?” I said.
There was an answer, a short one, one that signaled me to leave it alone.
I went upstairs with Patricia and played my own “what it” game. What if Dad took my advice and did take the apartment and did take this furniture? I’d want to make it as easy as possible for him. The drawers were all filled. The love seat was covered in open boxes of stuff: pictures, candles, and a whole mish mash of things. There was no place to sit. What if I was able to strip it down so someone could just come in and haul it down the stairs and out the door with no problem?
It didn’t matter if Dad took it or not. This room would need to be cleared sometime. So Patricia and I started creating space. Photos went downstairs in the photo bin I’d created. Knickknacks went into boxes for the grandkids to look through. Art supplies went into long narrow plastic bins under the bed. We cleaned out the closet. We bagged up the dated clothes and headed them out the door to be donated. We stored Mom’s collection of old bedspreads, sheets, blankets and pillows inside that closet.
What remained in the closet were those Reiten Equipment windbreakers. We looked at them and sighed in unison. As much as we’d love to purge them, we couldn’t. This represented Dad’s farm implement business that he started in the ‘70s. They were made out of perfectly fine vintage polyester. They weren’t going to mean anything to anyone but the Reitens although I couldn’t think of a single family member who would ever wear them. Certainly not me! We didn’t have the heart to get rid of them. We just pushed them neatly in the corner and closed the door.
That’s where I found them last month on the morning of January 29th, Dad’s 90th birthday. I went looking for an extra blanket in anticipation of Patricia driving down from Duluth for the party and sleeping in her usual quarters—the couch in the front porch.
I was dressed in my party outfit—my orange sweater and bright scarf—ready to head out the door to meet him at Briarwood. I couldn’t miss the bright orange jacket hanging there in the vintage section of the closet. It was annoying in July but now in January, I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed it and slipped it on over my sweater. I took a quick look in the full-length mirror and smiled. Wouldn’t Dad be surprised if he saw me walking into his apartment wearing this piece of history?
Sure enough, I walked into Dad’s apartment, furnished with all the pieces I’d suggested he bring, and he noticed the jacket right away. He got the biggest grin on his face. He said, “Where did you find that?” “It was upstairs in the bedroom at the lake. What do you think? Is it okay that I wear this?” I asked. “Sure,” he said. “I love that you wear it. I like it!”
The next day I was wearing my navy shirt with white piping. I decided to go back to that closet and try on the other Allis-Chalmers jacket that was hanging there. It’s white with a picture of a tractor on the back. I wore it downstairs and Patricia’s eyes lit up. She’s a farmer now herself but a farmer with a fashionista’s heart. The farm she works on grows vegetables and serves local restaurants, food co-ops, the University of Minnesota in Duluth and CSA members. I knew she’d want one. “You know what?” I said. “There’s a medium. Do you want me to bring it down?”
Soon we were in matching jackets cutting up carrots, celery, rutabaga, and potatoes making a veggie sausage soup. Dad walked through the kitchen and chuckled. “I’m so glad you found those jackets,” he said. I said, “I hope you’ll be glad about me taking them home with me.” “Oh sure,” he said. “I’m not going to be wearing them anytime soon!”
The jacket was perfect with Patricia’s outfit. She was wearing a black sweater and green pants with a flannel plaid lining. She rolled up the pants on the bottom and the colors were perfect with her Allis-Chalmers jacket.
There’s something about high school best friends. By now, in our 60s we’ve both been through a lot. But hanging out together in the kitchen, making soup, wearing our jackets was as cozy and comfortable as when I was 16 and she was 17 and we were hanging out in each other’s rooms, playing with clothes and talking about boys.
When she left on Sunday, she left with the jacket on her back. I called her a few days later. “How could we have scorned those jackets back in July and be crazy about them now? Neither one of us are sentimental. What’s up?” I wanted to know.
She said, “I feel proud and happy to wear it. I just think it’s cool. It’s so retro. It’s personal, it’s your family, we were celebrating your dad’s birthday. And besides, I happen to work on a farm that has an Allis-Chalmers tractor.” We laughed like schoolgirls at our conversion.
Dad called a night or two later. I was wearing my orange farm jacket at the time and told him so. “It made me feel good to see that jacket again and especially to see you girls wearing them. Did Patti take one home?” he said.
“Yes, was that okay?”
“Oh gosh, yes. She’s family!” he said.
So now when I wear mine, I think about Dad, I think about Patricia, I think about enduring love and friendship. I feel good inside. Who knew the thing I wanted to throw away would be the thing I cherish most right now?