The Suede Jacket

by Robin Turnipseed

I was running behind that morning. School drop off took longer than expected and I was 10 minutes late to meet my father for breakfast. Living nearly 45 minutes away from each other, we try to meet somewhere in the middle and since we both have a love affair with breakfast food, it is usually at a place serving pancakes and coffee…strong coffee.

Racing across town, I slid into the booth with him and, as we typically do, we launched into comfortable conversation. Being early November at the time, we talked about the weather, the recent birthday he celebrated, and where we planned to spend the holidays that year. We spoke of my kids and their school and my husband and how his job was going.

It was not until our walk out into the parking lot that he stopped and said, “Oh I have something for you.”

Walking over to his green pickup, Dad opened the door and pulled out a jacket that I had not seen in close to 30 years. My mouth fell open. He smiled and said quietly, “I remember that you always liked this and thought that you may want to have it.”

A Familiar Friend

The jacket is worn. The front is a light brown suede. The beige sleeves and back are woven in an identical thick cable-knit. This coat is so unique that I have yet to spot one even similar.

I walk back across the parking lot cradling the jacket close to me. It is a familiar friend. In the quiet of my own vehicle, I sit and smooth down the collar. It is the slightest bit tattered but has weathered the last few decades quite well. If I am being honest, we were both a bit worn and faded from our travels, but I like to think the extra lines and frays just add to our character.

The inside lining has a few small pulls, and the suede isn’t quite as pristine as it had once been. Nonetheless, it is still just as smooth as I remember.

I look around to make sure no one is watching as I lift the fabric up to my nose and breathe in its scent. Having not seen this coat for quite some time, I know it must have hung in a closet for the last few years, yet it still holds his warm scent as though he had just slipped it off his arms. The smells of Old Spice, Big Red gum, and the faintest hints of oil and gasoline.

My Symbol of Safety

I remember the first time Dad brought home the coat. We lived in Mississippi at the time and my winter coat was of some sort of puffer variety. To me the trendy suede jacket that cozied up to my sizable puffer in the hall closet screamed “cool” just like my dad.

It represented not only protection against the chill of the winter mornings, but served as a symbol of safety and comfort to me, two traits the insecure and unsure parts of my 15-year-old self could always count on in him. Plus, it carried his scent, a mix of oil and cologne, which equated to well being in my world filled with insecurity.

So every morning I quietly retrieved his coat from the closet, rather than my own, before the school bus arrived, despite the ongoing cause of tension it would create between us. At the time, I never understood why it made him upset. Couldn’t he see how much I loved it and the associations I had with it? (Clearly not as I never conveyed them.) Now having children of my own, I can grasp the level of his frustration.

During those years, the margins were lean. My parents could have taught a Master Class in hard work. Second jobs, on-call hours, and extra overtime shifts fought for every waking moment in our home. Our days were full and extra family time often scarce though we tried to savor it when it could be found.

I Was Noticed After All

Twenty-seven years and two kids later, I spend most of my time juggling my own full schedule. The irony that I am now in the shoes he filled in my childhood is not lost on me. And I chuckle and shake my head as I try on my gift in the park lot of our breakfast spot.

The moment that I slide my hands into the sleeves and feel the cool touch of the lining, so many emotions overtake me. The jacket has retained the same sense of protection that it once held. However, it is accompanied by a fresh sentiment. I feel seen. No matter how hectic life had been back then, he saw me.

He recognized what I held dear and though he never understood the motives behind my morning ritual of sneaking the jacket away, he noticed that it mattered to me.

He saw me then and he sees me now.

The Essential Worker

The reminder of taking the time to see people plays strong in my mind currently. Although it is counter-cultural it is an essential worker. In the midst of all the hustle and the hectic, have we lost sight of our humanity?

Reflecting on it now, I realize that the simplest of actions can be the most effective. We allow people to feel seen when we take the time to write the thank you notes or hand the discarded pacifier back to the momma with the screaming toddler. When we take out our earbuds at the gym to listen to the recently-widowed woman retell her engagement story, when we converse with our cashier, or when we simply do not interrupt, we see people.

Relinquishing the “I must be seen” attitude for one that says “I see you” seems as dated and faded as Dad’s suede jacket, but it’s an attitude that I know I should slip on more often.

We all seem to resemble the jacket these days, a bit worn and tattered. It might just be the perfect time to slow down long enough to be intentional with our kindness and warmth. Each takes mere moments but can matter to so many.

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