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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Remember When . . . Winter Wear

It’s that time of the year, when we don our winter gear. Have you notice how much more technologically advanced cold weather wear has become? I have a “puffer” coat that is packable and so lightweight, it hardly feels like I’m wearing a coat. It can also be stuffed into a small pouch and packed into luggage without taking up too much space or causing your baggage to go over the weight limit. The new garments also dry quickly.

That wasn’t the case when I was growing up. When I went to first grade in 1966, I remember I had a wool cloth coat with matching leggings. The leggings were like fishermen’s waders only make from the same material as my coat. They were so thick that I looked like Randy in The Christmas Story, when he couldn’t put his arms down from so much bulk. I also remember that they were itchy and took forever to dry if they got wet in the snow. I can still recall the smell of wet wool!

Winter footwear was no better back then. I had red rubber boots that you slipped over your shoes. When removing them, your shoe inevitably came off with them, which resulted in putting your bare foot down in a pile of melting snow. What a step up it was to get lined boots that you just slid your foot into—sometimes with the aid of Town Talk bread bags!

Most kids hate wearing coats, but I did have one coat that I loved. I got it in fifth grade. It was forest green corduroy and had a white fur collar, but what I really liked was that it had a matching fur hat that was styled like a bonnet and tied under the chin with strings that ended in matching fur pompoms. Talk about 60s style!

In seventh grade, maxi coats came into fashion, and my friend got one that I would have traded all the Love’s Baby Soft perfume in the world for. It was navy blue with a hood, but what was really cool about it was that on the back was a scene made from felt of a pathway that lead to a castle. The “castle coat” had killer style!

In high school, I proudly sported my SBA (St. Benedict Academy) high school jacket, which had my name and grad date embroidered on it. That jacket was a great ice breaker. If you were out the mall, ice skating, or at the movies, it wasn’t uncommon for boys to come up and say, “Hey, you go to SBA? You know my sister? Or cousin? You got a boyfriend?” For dressy occasions, I had a camel coat.
My younger brother often sported a lined plaid CPO jacket, but if I thought my boots were ugly, his galoshes were ghastly. They were usually made of this drab black/green rubber and fastened with hooks and what I thought looked like little ladders.

Winter garb back then may not have always been comfortable, but it was certainly durable. My late Uncle Bill Calvert was in the Navy Seabees where he was issued a peacoat back in the early 1950s. His daughter, my cousin, Lynn, wore it in the 1970s, and then she passed it along to my brother Tim, who wore it in high school in the 1980s. When he outgrew it (my uncle was only about 120 pounds when the coat was issued to him), my sister-in-law, Margi, took it. 

Ryan in Uncle Bill's peacoat.
Today, that coat is at Kent State University, where my nephew, Ryan, the architect major, wears it around campus. When you love a coat like my Uncle Bill’s classic pea coat, it’s great that it lasts, but when it comes to wool leggings, I’m glad they died a slow soggy death.  

This originally appeared in the Winter issue of Pittsburgh Fifty-Five Plus magazine.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Where Was I . . . Rerouting

“Your life is heading down one path, and then suddenly, in an instant, it all changes.” 

Those words were uttered by a former St. Benedict Academy classmate of mine over the holidays when she came to Pittsburgh from Florida for a visit after our not seeing each other for 43 years. Sadly, she was forced to leave our high school back in 1976 when her mother suddenly died during our junior year. Several other classmates and I were able to reconnect with our friend after finding her on Facebook.

If you use a GPS to navigate, I’m sure you’ve had this experience at some time. You plug in a destination, follow the prompts, and then maybe miss a turn or take a shortcut not recognized by the app, and you find yourself heading in a direction plotted by the GPS. The app usually flashes a “Rerouting . . .” message and tries to reorient you toward your final destination. 

Life can be like that GPS. There were nine of us who were able to meet with our long-lost classmate, and as we sat around the dining room table in another friend’s home, we caught our friend up on our lives, and she told us about hers.

And as I looked at these women that I’ve known since we were 14, I couldn’t help but take stock of where our paths of life had led us over the decades. Two of the nine there had battled and beaten cancer. Rerouting . . . Two had been divorced. Rerouting. . .  One had suffered the death of a child. Rerouting. . .  One had had a husband and two sons deployed during the war in Afghanistan. Rerouting . . . Two had recently lost parents to Alzheimer’s. Rerouting . . .

Though all of us had suffered some sort of loss or faced some sort of difficulty since we last saw our friend in 1976, every one of us turned out to be a responsible member of society. We were loving wives, moms, and, for three of us, now grandmothers as well as being teachers, accountants, chefs, nurses, etc. None of us, after our lives had gone off course, remained lost for very long. Each had rerouted and plowed ahead with her life.

But the larger question is: Where were we rerouting to? Where were we all heading? Although no one there stated it implicitly during our conversation, I knew that faith still played an important part in all of our lives. Sometimes I think that when you’re aiming for a Divine destination, it’s easier to reroute when life throws you off course.

You may not be a person of faith; if not, I still urge you think of what you want your destination to be. Where are you heading? What is your lodestar? What are you going to chart your course to? Everyone needs a destination, so that when you are forced to reroute, and you will during sometime in your life, you can still find your way. 

If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you ever going to get there?

This originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Northern Connection magazine.