21 April 2007

Reflections: The Jacket

Solo travel has a way of providing time – time for reflection, time for review, time for introspection. Prolonged layovers in particular, provide that time (ed - and a lot of it, if this recent trip is to be judged). It was while cooling his heels in another (not so) antiseptic terminal somewhere along his journey back home from yet another interminable conference that your ‘umble scribe was struck with an idea – a notion of you will.

We all remember high school English in general and composition in particular. Of the reading and forced penning of short stories and essays for which most of us wailed pitiably (at least we thought we were deserving of said pity) that we had no idea what to write and couldn’t we just forgo this exercise in aggravation – PLEASE?? Yet, when reading the various posts in the ‘sphere, it occurs to this scribe – what are they but short stories? Some auto-biographical, others descriptive, still more neo-journalist, but all short stories. Occasionally, they wrap into a larger thematic novel (see Lex) but for the most part, the subject, voice and viewpoint change with each posting. So why is it so many of us today, find time, nay, carve out time to fulfill an urge so sorely lacking in our (mis)spent youth? Ego, an urge to share, the human drive to communicate with fellow creatures, all that has bearing and impetus here. For YHS, it is a desire to share a thought, the bright glint of some idea – to bring the (alleged) chaos of his thoughts to some crafted form via his hands and like a potter or other artisan, to share his work with others in the hope it brings them some brief joy and amusement. Submitted herewith then, his offering today:

The Jacket

For as long as he could remember, it was always “the jacket.” To look upon it, it wasn’t particularly distinguished or remarkable, if the observer did not know of aviation, and especially its subset, naval aviation that is. For you see, the jacket was that article of clothing that linked the wearer to the heritage of those who came before. Crafted of goatskin leather, mouton fur and fitted with knit cuffs and waistband, it was the epitome of a functionally driven design. Essentially unchanged from when it first appeared in the 1930s, the jacket had, in possession and form, seen conflict from the Pacific to the Arctic – from sun-dappled Mediterranean shores to hostile skies over Korea.

To be sure, replacements had been tried and in some respects found lacking. An abortive try at cost-saving by crafting the main material out of Naugahyde ™ in the late 70’s had led to the current wearer (and writer) seeking a more authentic (and, as it turned out, durable) article when a pretender was issued to him in Pensacola. When he came by one, a few years later, it traveled with him to the far corners of the Earth, ashore and afloat. Boat Officer in Portsmouth, England. A freezing flightline in Norfolk. An airshow at Halifax. The bridge of an aircraft carrier at sea. Even all the way to the office of the CNO, it was his mute witness. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he eschewed the practice of re-covering its exterior with the various squadron and “been there” patches others had a bent towards. Indeed, sometime later when senior leadership finally gave the OK for wear some place else besides the flightline, but with the stipulation it conform to a set configuration like that inflicted by the junior air service on its aviators, he pointedly continued to refuse to add the patches. The lone exception to this self-imposed rule was the embossed leather nametag bearing his wings, name and rank or position over his left breast. Elegant simplicity, he thought. In retirement it continued to serve, especially on those late fall or early spring days with a chill in the air when he felt a need to go driving – with the top down, of course…

For as long as she could remember, it was always “the jacket.” Even the kids all knew that when he called for “the jacket,” this and no other was to be brought to him. Her first sight of him, as a LTJG had been when he was wearing the jacket. Tall, handsome and mysterious but with a mischievous glint in his eyes, she was drawn to him like no other, in spite of herself. Five months of correspondence between them while he was on deployment had built a certain image in her mind, and now standing here in front of her, words were brought to flesh. And she was secretly pleased. As the years passed and their bond grew fast, on those occasions when he was gone and the jacket left behind, she would take it out of the closet and curl up on the sofa and remember him. The smoothness of the worn leather, the softness of the fur collar – all with the faint trace of him, kept her company while he was gone. Her pillow of remembrance – it provided a kind of reassurance as well for his return, for, as she was wont to joke him on occasion, she couldn’t imagine him without the jacket and vice versa, and surely, he would (and always did) return. To her embrace and yes, his beloved jacket…