What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
Thrifting has come a long way since my adolescence. I don’t remember anything like the current overwhelming Goodwill bounty organized by color, size, and garment type having been available to me in the years when my family’s budget could have used it most.
The one exception was The Minnesota Rag Stock Exchange, a memorably exotic destination located in an old warehouse in a seedy area north of downtown Minneapolis. My older sister and her friends had discovered it (along with hordes of their wannabe-offbeat classmates) and occasionally allowed me to tag along on their thrifting explorations.
Entering the industrial Lake Street neighborhood, somewhat deserted on a Saturday, and then the hulking stone building itself—four stories of exposed lumber loft, rickety stairs, huge bales of rag stock wired up for shipping to who-knows-where, was daunting. And the eclectic mix of urban folks picking through huge steel-rimmed 55-gallon fiber barrels—hoping for a serviceable coat against the harsh Minnesota winter, a vintage treasure find, perhaps a retread of some beloved garment worn through and discarded years ago—was an education to us suburban girls.
I once found a pair of WWII era khakis I adored. I took in the waist, employing the dart technique learned without enthusiasm in home ec (which I never dreamed would find a use in my life after the requisite A-line skirt) and wore them for our band’s staging of South Pacific, and then for the next four years, until they virtually fell apart.
My sister remembers finding a gorgeous silk kimono, which she assumes she still has in the scary collection she swears she will sort through in the New Year.
My find of finds, however, was a priest’s frock coat, a cassock, if you will. Sturdy, high-quality, finely woven black wool, with silk-covered buttons, it was fitted in the bodice to a high waist, then flared slightly from there to just below the knees. Standard issue standup squared-off cutout collar, split tails—it made me feel special, a somewhat renegade Protestant girl, while hiding the hips I have never quite made peace with (or so I thought). The silk lining didn’t provide much insulation, but the coat was roomy enough to accommodate a heavy sweater underneath, which sufficed for all but the most bitter Minnesota winter days. Best of all, it had two hidden pockets in the waistband, one surely for a watch, the other for change, perhaps?
I wore the beloved frock coat through all my university days in Chicago, always with red wool mittens (another wardrobe item I remain passionate about). It is immortalized in a photo of me in the Tribune, red mittens and all.
Eventually, I passed the coat on to my baby brother, who by then towered over me. Once, not long after the transfer of the priestly vestment, we were on a road trip, destination now lost to memory and time. Coming upon a huge line of standstill traffic, we joined the ranks of the uninformed, sheep-like automobile passengers, waiting and wondering what had happened, when we would move, if we would make our destination at anywhere near our appointed time. At some point, baby bro decided to walk up and see what was going on. What was going on is now, also, lost to memory and time. But the enormous, mischievous grin he wore upon his return will never be forgotten, for everyone in every car all the way up the line had assumed he was a handsome young priest, hurrying up to administer last rites, or to meet any other exigent spiritual need.
Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse