If a 48 year old Blue Corduroy jacket given to a high school student in the early 70’s could talk, what do you think it would say? Would it sing you lyrics from Bread songs, tell you about a paper the boy wearing it was writing or even about the girl that boy wearing it might have had a crush on. Would it be able to tell you about the conversations the boy wearing it was having with his brothers, his parents or his friends. If you could hold that blue corduroy jacket, even better if you could wear that blue corduroy jacket, could it whisper the boy’s secrets to you and tell you about who he was on a deeper level?
Those questions were why I’ve always loved my dad’s blue corduroy FFA officer’s jacket. I’d never seen him wear it and had only seen one picture of him in it from highschool, but l liked it a lot. I liked all of my dad’s high school stuff from the early 70’s, his records, his books, his keepsakes, probably because they held my imagination and I liked thinking about who my parents were in high school. This particular jacket always reminded me that he was once a kid too with grand hopes and dreams for the future. This dark royal blue jacket had always reminded me that he was a person separate from me, a kid once before being a husband, a father, an uncle or a father-in-law.
Visiting Toledo in July, my sister, mom and I embarked on a task that felt surreal, sorting through my dad’s closet and dresser. This one jacket was actually hanging in my high school closet which I was also sorting through. I slipped it on and rolled up the sleeves, a little big I thought. Ann walked in and chirped “wow, it’s surprising how well that fits you”. “What are you trying to say? I chided back”. “That’s not what I meant Alisha”, she stammered as I smiled brightly knowing I’d rattled her a bit. A big sister has to give her little sister a hard time, it lightened the mood and I ran outside to tattle to my mom that Ann had called me fat and ask if I could take this jacket.
Permission was granted from my mom and I made sure it was ok with Ann and Zach as well. They aren’t quit as nostalgic as I am. Now I own this blue jacket that reminds me my dad was his own person. I’ve hung this jacket of his in my closet with my “work clothes” the one’s I’m in daily. It’s not in the closet with my coats where I wouldn’t see it. I need it to be just an arm’s length away.
I’ve now worn this heavy corduroy many times since I brought it home and it’s not really even cold enough for me to justify wearing this jacket, but I do. Over the last month and half since I brought it home in mid-July it’s what I reach for when I get really sad that he’s gone. I go wrap myself in this jacket, crawl into bed, play the one voicemail I have from him singing me happy birthday and telling me he loves me from two years ago on repeat and cry in the fetal position until I can’t cry any more. It’s visceral, animalistic and raw this pain of losing a parent you love. When I do this, If I don’t have somewhere to be and the pain hits I allow myself to wallow in it in the hopes that it will be medicine to help me heal.
Sunday it was a little chilly out, not cold per say, but at least a 20 degree drop from where we’ve been, and my body wasn’t ready for it, I needed an extra layer. I reached for the heavy blue corduroy. I laid it on my bed as I was getting ready and I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. Growing up in the city FFA wasn’t something I had the opportunity to be a part of, but I had a hunch I might have liked it more than Girl Scouts. So, staring at the golden embroidered thread in the middle of the patch I noticed there is an owl perched on a plow. I’m not sure how over years I’d paid so much attention to this jacket and never noticed the owl in the middle, all I can say is that details have never been my strong suit.
Looking at this owl that seemed to be staring back at me, I froze and the hair on my arms seemed to stand up. Over the last four years an owl has become a powerful symbol in my life. A bit of magic that shows up to remind me to trust myself. Whenever the owl shows up I know that my internal compass is pointing me in the right direction and I need to keep listening.
Now in a bit of shock, I was still in a hurry to get out the door, but I fired off a text to my cousin who was also a FFA officer explaining to her that I had my dad’s jacket and pleading to know “is the owl still in the middle of the emblem, and can you please tell me what it means?” Johanna wrote back quickly telling me the owl is still in the current FFA emblem and is the symbol for all FFA advisors across the country “the owl is a symbol for the advisor...to show age and wisdom. … The owl is a time-honored emblem of knowledge and wisdom being older than the rest of you, I am asked to advise you from time to time as the need arises I hope that my advice is based on true knowledge and ripened with wisdom”
It turns out this corduroy jacket can talk, maybe not in words but I’m getting it’s message. I think my dad still has a lot to teach me, but from now on he’s speaking in a different language. So often I’ve thought that when someone dies, they are gone, but I’m learning something very different. I thought it was cliche when people told me that I could still feel connected to him that I could still have a relationship with him and feel close. Since he’s passed I’ve written him a number of letters, I’ve asked him for help, I’ve told him about what I’m working on and I’ve thanked him for everything he has always given me.
I feel like my dad is listening and responding to me when I hear songs he would sing me like Rocky Mountain High or something by Bread, or when I smell the sweet smell of musk mellon at the farmers market. Noticing this owl right in the middle of the emblem that sits on my heart when I wear it also feels like a reminder that he’s still present when I need him. A reminder that when I need him there will be “advice based on true knowledge and ripened with wisdom” that he can still share if I’m willing to pay attention.