My l4-year-old son, John, and I spotted
the coat simultaneously. It was hanging on a rack at a secondhand
clothing store in Northampton Mass, crammed in with shoddy trench
coats and an assortment of sad, woolen overcoats -- a rose among
While the other coats drooped, this one looked
as if it were holding itself up. The thick, black wool of the double-breasted
chesterfield was soft and unworn, as though it had been preserved
in mothballs for years in dead old Uncle Henry's steamer trunk.
The coat had a black velvet collar, beautiful tailoring, a Fifth
Avenue label and an unbelievable price of $28. We looked at each
other, saying nothing, but John's eyes gleamed. Dark, woolen topcoats
were popular just then with teenage boys, but could cost several
hundred dollars new. This coat was even better, bearing that touch
of classic elegance from a bygone era.
John slid his arms down into the heavy satin
lining of the sleeves and buttoned the coat. He turned from side
to side, eyeing himself in the mirror with a serious, studied expression
that soon changed into a smile. The fit was perfect.
John wore the coat to school the next day
and came home wearing a big grin. "Ho. did the kids like your
coat?" I asked. "They loved it," he said, carefully
folding it over the back of a chair and smoothing it flat. I started
calling him "Lord Chesterfield" and "The Great Gatsby."
Over the next few weeks, a change came over
John. Agreement replaced contrariness, quiet, reasoned discussion
replaced argument. He became more judicious, more mannerly, more
thoughtful, eager to please. “Good dinner, Mom," he would say