The Coat: L.L. Bean Signature Italian wool peacoat
Did I ever tell you guys that my grandpa was in the navy? On my dad’s side, Don – Donald – Collins served his country proudly in World War II as a radio striker on a submarine. He died, wow, ten years ago? More now, maybe?
He used to wear a cap that bore his sub’s name – the USS Finback – almost every time I saw him. It was blue, and braided gold where the bill met the rest of the hat. The memory of it is etched so strongly in my vision you’d think I’d seen him sporting it just yesterday. He would keep it pushed it up and back on his head, the easier for him to peck my grandmother on the cheek while wearing it.
This peacoat, from L.L. Bean Signature, makes me feel – in a small way – closer to my grandpa. Originally worn by sailors (first in Europe, then here in the states), the peacoat has worked its way into the wardrobes of the culture-at-large.
And you can tell why. The style is always appropriate – whether worn with dress slacks, or simply thrown over jeans, you just feel feel so damn put together when sporting those broad lapels and double breasted buttons. The jacket hits that sweet spot of feeling totally classic yet perfectly modern. It’s also a great outfit finisher – a jacket like this looks great when accessorized with a scarf thrown around an upturned collar, or worn simply with good posture.
Wearing the peacoat makes me think of the stories he’d spin for me, my brother, and sister when we were little, visiting him and my grandma in Portage (and later too, when they’d moved to Madison, and we were older, and had heard all his stories a hundred times each, but they were still too good to interrupt him and tell him so).
We’d listen for hours to him telling us about his short-lived boxing career in the Golden Gloves as a teenager. Or how, when the war began and he went to enlist, he was turned away the first time for being too short and barely 115 pounds soaking wet. About that next week before he went back to try again, how he carried bunches of bananas with him everywhere, trying to bulk up – and fast. How the girls at the soda shoppe in town would bring him malts three times a day to help that weight gain along. And we’d listen to him tell us, slapping his knee, that when he did go back, he hadn’t gained a pound (and obviously not an inch), but they let him sign up anyway.
I remember him telling us how he met his future wife at a USO dance in Madison. He went with a friend of hers but ditched her as soon as he saw my grandmother (I always felt bad for the friend, but glad it turned out the way it did). About the time he and his crew saved a future president, when George H.W. Bush’s fighter plane was shot down in the Pacific. About the ship newspaper he wrote and printed during wartime. Underwater.
On one of many family trips to Washington DC as a child (ours is a family of history nerds), we made a pit stop at the U.S. Navy Memorial. A sailor with his duffle bag beside him, cast in bronze, presides over a large plaza. Over the years, that statue and the image I hold of my grandfather have mingled in my mind, to the point that the statue is a little shorter, my grandpa a little sturdier, and I’m no longer sure which I’m thinking of when the image bubbles up in my memories.
When I think of my grandfather now, his strength, courage, kindness, and most of all, his stories, wash over me. When I wear this peacoat, I’m reminded of the man he was – the husband, the father, the sailor, the grandfather. I’m reminded to stand a little straighter. Love my family more fiercely. To take on challenges that no one else thinks I’m up for. To make sure I’m up for those challenges.