The Russian Coat

The Russian coat is packed a plastic bag, still on the floor of my office because I have no idea what to do with it.  For one thing, it has a history.  Back in my older son’s senior year of high school, the class, in conjunction with a course in Russian literature, travelled to Russia during spring break.  My son left wearing a blue ski jacket when he boarded the plane.  When he arrived back at the airport a week later, he had this thick woolen brass buttoned military coat: the Russian coat.

That coat went with him to university in Chicago, it and he enduring four years of minus zero degree winter weather (and how glad I was he had it) and then it came back home and into the hands of my younger son who wore it for the last two years of high school and beyond.  At that point, my older son was working overseas, we were on the cusp of moving to CT, and as we were cleaning things out, I thought maybe it was time to donate the Russian coat.

My eldest was adamant that we shouldn’t. The Russian coat had a story, it was his story, his history;  it  was part of his growing up. We had strict orders not to donate the Russian coat.  By that time, it was in pretty bad shape:  it needed a really good going over, repair, and a major cleaning.  Was it worth all that if it was just going to be packed away and nobody was planning to wear it ever again?

As I’ve written previously, my mother was born in Russia; my grandparents emigrated here in the 1930’s so I’m not without some sentiment on this matter.  I feel that pull to keep some connection to a history that’s in my blood if not in my consciousness.

But maybe there’s a different story about the Russian coat that I, the granddaughter and daughter of those immigrants and romance author, have yet to excavate from its tattered remains. I mean, this could be my Doctor Zhivago moment if I’m ever bold enough to grab it.

Until I’m certain of it, though, I’m feeling, fatalistically, that the Russian coat just might be with us forever.  So it sits, a victim of inertia, bundled up, on the floor of my office and I nudge it every once and while, and wonder what to do with it. I try to imagine that moment my son actually came into possession of it, and wonder whether actually having the object is necessary if you’ll always have the memory.  I wonder if this is how we all get stuck with the objects of our memories that we just can’t bear to relinquish.  And if the reason we hold onto objects is to hold on to our history in order to assure that our children and grandchildren know and remember that we were here.

How many things have tethered you because of memories?  Are they inspiration or clutter? Are you someone who can easily let go of objects?  Or do you hold onto things forever?  Is your house as cluttered as mine? What would you have done with the Russian coat?

Thea Devine is nearly finished with Beyond The Night, the sequel to The Darkest Heart, to be released April 2013.  She’s pleased to announce the reissue of His Little Black Book in October.

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11 thoughts on “The Russian Coat”

  1. Growing up with a hoarder has made me less sentimental in holding onto things. At least it did until I had kids. Now I find it hard to throw away things I think they might want when they get older. Who knows…maybe my mother was saving all those things for me. :) Anyway, my rule typically is if I haven’t needed or worn something in two years, then it goes. ~Except for books, of course. ;)

  2. What a great story, Thea. The Russian Coat sounds like it’s destined to remain. I’d have it cleaned and packed away in moth balls, stuffed in the attic until the oldest is ready to take possession. It’s his memory to hold onto or let go of. Not long ago, I relinquished custody of my oldest son’s “memory box” which contained his High School football jacket and some collectible Marvel comics that will probably be worth something to someone down the road. He was very grateful that I’d saved them.

    I’m NOT a pack rat. I grew up in clutter and it really feels stifling to me. The more stuff I have, the more I feel responsible to care for, so I let go easily and love to clean out closets, drawers, and cupboards seasonally. The house–and my soul– always feels better for it.

    1. Good, morning, PJ. Come work your psychic magic on me. Our family findsit very hard to let go. Books are, as you’ve read in my previous posts, really hard. And there’s stuff you inherit, pieces of your childhood, your past — you wonder what your kids will want to know twenty years down the line when they really get interested in family history … I think that’s a big part of it for me, in any event. And course, the putative Dr. Zhivago a la Devine still hovers …

      thea

  3. Oh yes, Thea. There’s a story in that coat — maybe a multigenerational saga (I love, love those kind of stories)? Or a mystery–what’s sewn into the lining? Or a romance? I’ve worked pretty hard to fight my cluttery tendencies, inherited from my very cluttery mom. I have a weakness for books and dishes/glassware/crystal/shiny stuff, and of course I’ve saved things from the Crown Prince’s teenaged life-so-far. Of course, much of the clutter in my house is not mine. My husband has a very hard time letting go–and I have the basement to prove it :)

    1. Susannah, I love those ideas; that’s exactly the kind of stuff I love in my leisure reading fiction. Especially the something in coat lining — a miracle it never fell out, or someone hadn’t discovered it yet … how securely was it hidden and where? Deliberately, so one would unknowingly smuggle it out of the country? Or was that hidden something long hidden – like revolutionary times …

      What could it be?

      Thanks Susannah!!

      thea

      1. Well now I’m dying to find out too! Let’s see — how about jewels hidden inside some of the buttons, padded so they don’t rattle? Or a secret letter written on something flexible, like vellum, encased in the shoulder padding? A well-tailored coat probably has interlining between the outer fabric and the lining, so something moderately flexible could also be incorporated into that and would not be discovered unless some of the lining was removed to repair a seam. Why is it there, though, and what does it say? Those are the big questions!

  4. Have it cleaned and repaired, then wrap it in a sheet and store it in mothballs or cedar balls until your son is ready to reclaim it. As for books, I hope you’re keeping only first editions, or books likely to go out of print that are special to you. Otherwise you can find those books in the public library. That’s where I keep mine. :) I just went through all my “treasures” this weekend, and decided to use my grandma’s leather wallet that I’ve had stored away for 32 years. Why am I keeping it stored away in a box? It’s a leather wallet, hand-tooled with the word “Mom” on it. Now it reminds me of both my grandma and my mom, and as I’m a mom too, it’s perfectly appropriate. I was able to recycle a lot of stuff once again and further reduce my belongings. I continue to winnow down as low as I can go. I am anti-clutter, but I do appreciate personal history.

    1. Another jumping off point for novel — three generations, one wallet and the deeper significance of it having been kept al these years.

      Maybe I’m getting old, but I love this stuff.

      thea

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