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Memories make some coats especially warm

You can tell how long someone has lived in Florida by what kind of coat they wear when the weather gets really — I mean really cold.

Once you get south of Gainesville, Florida isn't really a "coat" state, so most of us haven't bought one since we've been here. We make do with jackets and sweaters and layering (I have on four layers as I write this), and when we visit colder climes, we either borrow a coat or buy one and leave it where we visit (I have a whole storage locker of coats, gloves, thermal underwear and snow boots at my son's house in Salt Lake City).

A woman in a mink with wide, wide shoulders? She's been here at least 20 years, and her coat is, hmmm, probably a decade older than that.

For one thing, you don't do mink in Florida. Unless you live in Palm Beach, where you do fur all year around — but it's new fur, not yellowed white mink or shiny dark brown absent those long, lustrous guard hairs and underfur so sparse it lets the knitted fabric show, which gives it away as fake or even older than 30.

Leather? Maybe. But only if it falls around your body like rayon, because if it sticks out all stiff, it's either vinyl or the elusive, though not endangered Naugahyde (second cousin to the flying unicorn).

My own Florida cold weather coat is actually older than any full-time reporter or photographer in the Times' Port Richey bureau. By a decade or more, actually.

It's beige wool, pocked with little holes eaten by unidentified critters in Texas at least 40 years ago, when the coat was already so old I wore it to lie in the backyard hammock and read under a slanted winter sun. It's lined in a fuzzy fabric with horizontal black, white and brown stripes that remind me of a Palomino pony saddle blanket.

The arms are lined in quilted stuff like that of Chinese peasants, who wear it because it works.

There's a wide knitted trim around the front, slash pockets big enough for heavy gloves, and a big fuzzy collar that I can pull up around my neck.

This coat has been all over two continents, seen several Wonders of the World, appeared in scores of newspapers on the body of the short photographer (me) about to be creamed by a 248-pound Houston Oiler headed for the sidelines, when I photographed games for the small newspaper chain I worked for in Texas back in the 1970s and '80s.

There's a tiny stain on the front of the coat where I swear I actually drooled as I took a string of motor-driven photos of the late Walter "Sweetness" Payton as he pulled off his Chicago Bears jersey in the end zone during a game against the Oilers in the Astrodome sometime in the mid-1970s. What a physical specimen that man was. And as he looked straight into my camera lens, his modest grin revealed the best-looking teeth I ever saw.

I've put that coat in the "giveaway" bag in the corner of my closet at home at least a dozen times, but I always pull it back out just at the last minute.

One of the big buttons is missing, and the remaining three look like flesh-colored peanut butter cookies that someone has flattered with only one swipe of a fork instead of the traditional two in opposite directions.

Still, that coat is almost like family, with as many good memories attached as any family could provide.

So, let it snow, let it sleet, let it frost.

My coat and I are ready.

Memories make some coats especially warm 01/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 8:11pm]
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