Charlie’s Coat

Charlie’s Coat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

Charlie’s Coat

She’d been on a halfhearted hunt for some misplaced Christmas stockings when she found the coat—warm and soft, brown and dear—in the very back of her bedroom closet, hiding behind a big box of Glenn Miller albums. The sight of it shocked, surprised and saddened her. All three emotions gathered in one scary lump in the space between her throat and her permanently broken heart.

Why hadn’t she found it before? Charlie had been gone a year to the day, and she’d been in that closet countless times. She’d pilfered through it like a teary-eyed madwoman looking for bits and pieces of the man she’d loved all of her life, things that were his, things he’d worn. Faded flannel shirts—his second skin from September through every April—broken-in Levi’s with permanent white creases sharp enough to slice a loaf of homemade bread and his shoes.

Oh God, the shoes.

Empty shoes, just sitting there all alone. Except for the coat, they were the hardest things to look at. Reebok walkers, white on white, his old standbys. She’d bought them just two weeks before he passed away.

Where was the man who filled those shoes?

Not here. Not sitting with her on the side of the bed, not out in the woodshop, not at the corner take-out, not jawing at the fence with the neighbors, not dangling a grandkid on his knee, not here in this house.

Where he belonged.

Ginny made herself stand, take two small steps, and with eyes closed, reach to the back of the closet. There, she thought. She felt it. See? She could feel that coat and not go to pieces. But could she hold it, asked a small, inner voice. Could she smell it, look at it? And while she wondered, it hit her again . . . how did it get here, and where had it been for a whole, long year?

She’d told the kids she wanted it back. She didn’t care which one of them had taken it. She knew it was out of love that they conspired to hide it away, like a piece of hurt she wouldn’t have to see. She knew, she knew . . . out of sight, out of mind.

But they had insisted, all three of them, that they did not hide the coat, the chocolate brown barn coat she’d given him their first Christmas, 1962. The one he wore to work every day for the next twenty-five years, the one she’d teasingly threatened to toss away when the pockets wore off and the deep ribs became smooth and dull and the points on the collar curled up. The one he insisted on keeping long after it was presentable.

In less than a breath, she reached up now, on her toes, and tugged at the coat with all the loneliness and despair and gut-wrenching longing that was in her, and just as suddenly, with great care and respect and love, she pulled it to her small, shaking frame and slipped it on, one arm at a time, until she could double the breast, and then held on tight, and remembered.

“A bee-yoo-tee-ful lady I knew bought it for me,” he’d said, “and I’m not about to give it up.”

She still remembered the pain and the pride she’d felt when he’d said that, looking at her like she was the best thing he could ever hope to possess, and she’d understood. He most certainly had been the finest thing she had ever known.

And oh, that did it. That single, long-ago moment broke the dam. Just his quiet words, “It was the first time in my life, Ginny, that anyone ever loved me enough to buy me a new coat, a brand-new coat. Thank you for that, for loving me like that.”

And after the horrible pangs of his sudden death, she’d searched for it everywhere. She’d torn the house up looking for it and hadn’t been able to find it. But now here it was, one year later, wrapped all around her. The snow was falling, the Christmas bells were ringing, it was growing dark, and here it was.

Ginny pulled the coat tighter and bent her face to the collar. She breathed in and found the scent of pine wood-chips, English Leather, good, strong coffee . . . and Charlie. She took another deep, deep breath from way, way down and every moment she’d ever shared with him flashed before her mind and her heart, and she snuggled even further into the warmth.

Oh, yes. She’d loved him that Christmas so long ago. And all the Christmases in between. And she loved him still, this Christmas, when there was nothing left of him except the memories.

And his old brown coat.

Robin Clephane Steward

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