Fifteen years ago, give or take, the Amazon Queen came back from a trip to Shirley's, big bag in hand, big smile on face.
"Boy, did I get you a treasure today," she said.
"Really?" I said.
"Really," she said.
"Here," she said, handing me the bag, "take a look."
I looked in, and all I saw was a bunch of black material.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Take it out and find out."
I did. It was a man's overcoat.
"Try it on," she said.
I put it on, and it fit perfectly.
"Nice," I said.
"Only 'nice'?" she said.
"OK," I said. "Really nice."
"Listen, Bozo," she said. "In case you didn't see the label before you put it on, that coat is a hundred percent cashmere."
Cashmere? I knew cashmere was a material of some sort but beyond that knew nothing about it. Let's get real: With my cash flow and frugal nature, there was no way I'd ever run across cashmere in any form.
But once I had the coat on, a few things about cashmere became apparent: It was super-warm, super-light, and super-soft. For sure, it was the most luxurious piece of clothing I'd ever worn. But there was one thing it wasn't - my style.
It was a mid-calf length coat with thin lapels, probably from the early '60's - something I figured only old men wore. And while I knew I was no longer a fuzzy-cheeked tyro, I also knew I was no old man. So while I appreciated the AQ's thoughtfulness and thanked her profusely, I knew the coat would spend a lot more time in my closet than on my back.
Still, there was something about it. From time to time, I'd take it out, put it on and indulge myself in its total comfort. But that was it.
Then, a few months after she gave it to me, when I tried it on, on a whim I reached into the inside pocket, and my hand touched something. I brought it out. It was an old business card and on it was engraved: Joseph Drutz, Advertising Manager of the Adirondack Enterprise and the Lake Placid News.
My mind reeled.
Joe Drutz? I knew Joe Drutz all my life. He was quite a guy - a lifelong townie who was kind, smart, funny, and an active member of the community. Big on the chamber of commerce, a Rotary guy, held village offices -?just a great Saranac Lake booster. I was pretty sure he was the one who'd thought up the slogan on all the village signs - "Welcome to Saranac Lake, Home of 7,000 Friendly People." I knew his slogan on the warning signs to speeders - "Have a good time, not a fine time."
The back story
But while I knew some things about Joe Drutz, I didn't know him well. I did, however, know his wife, Bea very well. And I loved her too. But that was no big deal, since everyone who knew her, loved her.
Bea worked for the Enterprise for decades and when I started writing for the paper, she was the highlight of all my visits. She was sweet, kind, cool, and sharp as a whip. Every time I brought in my column, I asked her to read and comment on it. She had a great eye for writing and any suggestions she ever made, I took. When she finally retired, sometime in her mid-70's, it was as if a light went out in the Enterprise office.
Anyhow, when the AQ gave me the coat, Bea still worked at the paper, so I after I found the card, I immediately tore down to the office.
"Hey, Bea," I said, "did Joe ever have a cashmere coat?"
"Oh yes," she said. "He loved that coat, and I remember how he got it like it was yesterday. We were in New York and we did some shopping and we ran across that coat. He fell in love with it immediately, but couldn't make himself buy it because it was so expensive."
"So how'd he get it?" I asked.
"Well, I guess I talked him into it," she said. "Joe never spent anything on himself, never indulged himself, never spoiled himselfand I told him it was about time he did."
"And that did it?"
"Well not exactly," she said, with a little puckish smile. "I probably had to be a bit more persuasive. But it worked, finally."
A moment went by, and she frowned.
"Why are you asking me about his coat?" she asked.
I then told her about the AQ's shopping expedition, which added a note of mystery to the whole episode: Joe had died in 1975, so how did his coat surface almost 25 years later?
It turned out Bea gave the coat to a neighbor. He wore it for years, until his expanded girth no longer allowed it, and thus it made its way to Shirley's.
After our talk, I decided I had to wear the coat, at least some of the time, and I settled on making it my Winter Carnival coat. Since Carnival is about as old timey as it gets, being dressed up in an old time way was the perfect complement to the festivities.
And so the coat was my official Carnival garb, worn only during Carnival till this year, when I started wearing it long before Carnival, and am wearing it after Carnival as well. In fact, while I hardly wore it three days a year for over a decade, now I wear it at least three days a week.
What caused this change? Probably a bunch of things.
For one, every time I put it on, I think of Bea.
For another, it's luxurious. And what's wrong with a little luxury - especially when it keeps you warm in the middle of an Adirondack winter?
And finally, I've come to grips with my previous ageist thinking.
Maybe at one time I thought I was too young to wear that coat - but no more.
As a matter of fact, given how I look these days, I imagine if anyone bothers to notice me, they'll think only one thing: What a lucky old wretch I am, to have such a beautiful coat.