In the Spirit of Giving. And of Holding On.


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I had a ski jacket in my closet. Size large, men’s. It hung off to the side, then travelled in a box when I moved from California to Nevada, found its way into my new closet, and stayed there, quietly, for seven years.

It was deep purple, or rather it was that dark blue almost purple color that is the men’s version of purple, with yellow trim; it rustled when he walked. But not too much. If I had to find the perfect ski jacket, one with a hood, pockets, warm lining – this was it.

I took it out occasionally, usually at the beginning of winter, and admired it, held it out, smelled it –to make sure it had no musty odors, you see – and then hung it back in the closet.

A friend asked me recently when she should give away her husband’s clothes. Her other friends were eager for her to move on as he’d been gone, passed away, for six months. There’s something magical about six months in peoples’ minds. It seems to be the amount of time it takes for friends and family to come to a widow’s side and quietly mention the clothes in the closet, the shoes in the hall, the woodworking tools.

Discreetly.

Softly so as not to be disturbing, so as not to upset the widow; it’s so easy to make her cry. And who needs that. Crying is not good for anyone, not after six months.

Sometimes they gently prod over the phone, with a “by the way, have you done any decluttering?” Or a, “you know I’m here to help, if you want me to come move boxes or take something to Goodwill.  You know I’m here. “

Sideways. With sensitivity.

My friend wasn’t ready to give up her late husband’s clothing. She’s a kind woman, though, and never wanting to make anyone uncomfortable, gave a few t-shirts to a guy down the street (she’d see the shirts, you know, anyway, as he came and went, and that was somehow comforting); she threw out some old clothes that had been on the way to the dump anyway. She gathered things together, made tidy piles, collected things in bags and put them in the spare room.

I told her the story about the ski jacket. It was with me for eight years. I almost lent it to a houseguest to wear once, but luckily we were able to find a few layers of sweatshirts large and warm enough before I dug out the ski jacket.

I knew it was unreasonable to keep it for so many years, no matter how perfect it was, no matter how pristine and new. Because it was —almost — new. He had worn it for one winter and he looked good in that jacket. You know how some people can wear clothes and it’s almost as if they can do no wrong.  They throw on a cardigan with patched sleeves and immediately everyone in the room wishes they had thought to wear such a thing. Not this guy, though. He was a good-looking guy, at six-three, tall and fit. But clothes sat oddly on his large-boned frame. Loosely.  Socks slacked down over the ankles, Sleeves hiked up above the wrists.

But not this jacket. It sat on his shoulders, the sleeve lengths hitting just right at the top of the hands, the collar framing his face when he pulled it up on a windy day at the beach.

It’s no wonder I loved the jacket.

But of course, I could not keep it forever. I reminded myself of that every winter when I pulled it out to see how it had weathered the summer.  And then came the Christmas when I knew it was time for me to allow the jacket to find a new home.  It was the season of giving and I was ready to give. I lived in Reno and as the holidays approached, the weather grew cold and icy and wet, the kind of days that ended in freezing snow and started up again the next morning with wind, rising temperatures, melting ice, wet streets, and then another freezing night.  Cold and wet – a nasty combination.

I put the jacket into my SUV, giving it the front seat beside me and it sat there all purple and proud to be out in the sun again. I was taking it to the homeless camp just outside downtown, over by the freeway. But, I said. Not just yet. First, I had to stop at Walgreens for shampoo.

I passed a homeless guy as I walked into the store. He stood by the building, stamping his feet on the slushy walkway. He wanted a cigarette; I don’t smoke, so, sadly, I could not help him. But I wanted to. He seemed to me to be so wretched, so thin, so hopeless. All he wanted was a cigarette. I considered buying him cigarettes when I paid for my shampoo but something stops me from buying consumables that kill. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I stood there listening to holiday bells jingling and Christmas music on the store speakers.

And then, right then, as if by divine intervention, I knew what he needed. That skinny homeless man, he needed a jacket. His coat was thin, nylon, not waterproof. It was, in fact, a fake ski jacket, never intended to keep someone warm in freezing  wet weather.

He was cold, and I had a jacket.

I knew that I needed to give him the jacket. I could feel it. He was the destination this jacket had been waiting for.

He was gone when I barged back out through the doors. I scanned the parking lot, the streets nearby, the sides of the building. How could he have gone and disappeared so quickly! Then I saw him crossing at the intersection just down the way, heading on up toward the homeless camp. I jumped in the car, exited through the entrance and made a beeline for that intersection.

I caught up with him a half block up the street and pulled over, rolling down my passenger window. “Mister,” I called. “Sir!” He looked over, and I could feel him evaluating me, recognizing me as the woman who had refused to give him a cigarette at Walgreens. He was polite anyway and came toward the car. “I have a jacket,” I said. “It’s warm.”

“No thanks,” he said, and walked on.

No thanks? Could he have misunderstood?  I nudged the car up another 20 feet and was beside him again “Sir!” I yelled. “Sir!”

He looked at me and I thought I detected a trace of concern on his face. Or fear? Was this lady a lunatic? Should he be scared? Or was this an opportunity for him to take advantage of?. He moved carefully up to the car and this time he stood right at the window, leaning his elbows on the sill. “Please,” I said. “You need this jacket. It’s warm, and it’s cold out there. “

“Do you have any cigarettes?” he asked. He was close enough that I could smell his breath. Not cigarettes, I noted.

“No. But I have this jacket. It’s a good one, hardly worn at all. Take it,” I said and, as he was leaning into the window by then, I was able to push the jacket into his unwilling hands.

He looked into my eyes and paused, taking stock of the situation as any streetwise homeless man must if he is to remain alive on the streets.  “Thank you, ma’am,” he said. And he backed away, out of the window, then turned and regained the sidewalk. I watched the jacket get stuffed under his arm. He turned back. “You sure you got no cigarettes?”

“No, no cigarettes.”

It was time to give the jacket away, you see, I told my friend.  You just know when it’s time.  And In this time of year, when the holiday season approaches and the spirit of giving fills the malls, the stores, the airwaves and the internet, this time of year is one of the easiest times to part with things we hold onto, the things we enfold in lieu of having the beloved, the cherished, the real.

She hugged me then, and thanked me in her kindest way, though I noticed that she did not invite me to her room to clear closets with her.  I did not tell her that now, even after eleven years, I have clutter of my own that I should be attending to.

I have a leather bomber jacket in my closet. Size large, men’s.