The Finnish Reindeer Coat

Dearest Rachel –

The other day, I saw Mom getting a few old coats out of the cedar closet in their basement (from the room under what used to be my own, back when I was growing up). Admittedly, I didn’t think much of it, but took the moment to fill her in on the emails I’d already been receiving from the quilt company regarding the shirts I had sent in to them late last week. I thought she’d like to know what’s going on, as she seemed to be so pleased at the time that I was actually doing something about that collection that had been languishing in their basement for the better part of the last year (and, to be fair, she acknowledged that this hadn’t originally been meant to be my responsibility, but that’s another story).

She explained that she was retrieving a few coats that she no longer wore (and in some cases, that she never got around to wearing) because the church was having a drive for clothing to send on to Ukraine, as refugees are – understandably – fleeing that country in droves, many with little more than the clothes on their backs, in the middle of an Eastern European winter. It was, apparently, a snap announcement on the part of the church, as they’d just gotten wind of a plane heading for the area, and only had a few hours to get stuff to the campus before it was set to take off from O’Hare.

I confess to regretting the fact that I’d given away so much of your clothing already – and being somewhat chagrined that I was actually concerned that she might suggest I donate the rest of your shirts (although I needn’t have worried; her approval of my shifting of your clothes had more to do with making room in the basement, as opposed to any choices I might make regarding what to do with them. Besides, she’s quite understanding of the need to have some relics of you left behind to treasure). I’ve kept what I’ve kept because of the attachment they had to you… and, in some cases, the stories behind them.

That’s particularly true about this eponymous coat. I mentioned previously that I should tell its story, because it serves as something of a parable for when I feel the need to make a decision, but don’t have the opportunity to actually do so. So, while you would remember the story just fine on your own, it needs to be shared with the world at large, because I can’t be the only one dealing with issues like this.

Our story begins, as you will remember, with our second cruise as a family. That’s a story in and of itself; shortly after getting back from Alaska, dad asked us ‘kids’ what we thought of the Caribbean. I didn’t realize that this was a fishing expedition on his part – at the time, the Alaska cruise seemed like a trip of a lifetime, rather than the first of a series of biennial vacations we would take as a family for a decade or so. So I gave him an honest opinion that the Caribbean didn’t appeal to me much the same way as Thailand hadn’t appealed to me as a college student; the poverty of the area was noticeable to the point of being unable to truly enjoy it. There are just certain places where I felt like I didn’t have a right to enjoy myself when the locals were suffering.

Now, I’ve since learned that the locals depend on wealthy foreign tourists for income (you’d told me about a trip to Jamaica with your parents where you found yourself reproved by a shopkeeper as you browsed through a store, uninterested in its wares, “You not buying anyt’ing!”), so I don’t feel so bad about it, but at the time, I was expressing my opinion.

Apparently, by doing so, I had inadvertently torched their plans for a future vacation, leaving them wondering what to do next. Fortunately, their back up plan turned out to probably be the most special of trips we’d ever take, as they chose to travel through the Baltic Sea. We literally got to visit the home of dad’s grandfather or great grandfather in Gamla Stan (the Old Town) Stockholm. We smelled the fresh cut timber in the port of Tallin.

And in Finland, there was a kiosk set up just on the dock that offered this beautiful coat:

It didn’t include the mittens, the scarf, or the earmuffs, by the way; when I went to lay the coat out for the picture, I found all of them in your bulging pockets.

The reason we refer to it as the ‘reindeer’ coat has to do with the buttons, which if I recall, were made from reindeer antlers. I don’t believe the rest of the coat was sourced from reindeer. In any event, it was locally manufactured.

As I recall, they were asking some 1,500 markka for it – this was shortly before the introduction of the euro as the universal European currency we’re all familiar with today – which amounted to slightly more than a hundred dollars. For us, that was a lot of money – these sort of vacations were not things we could’ve done on our own at that time, let alone the purchase of certain shore excursions and other souvenirs. We had to be careful with our money back then.

Not only that, but we didn’t have a lot of time; we had managed to get transit into Helsinki to wander around – I forget if we actually had a shore excursion as such – and needed to leave before we missed the bus the rest of the family was getting on. So we decided that we would leave it up to fate (or maybe God’s will); if it was still hanging on the rack when we returned from our tour of Helsinki, we would conclude that it was meant for you, and I would purchase it, despite the cost. If not – and because it was the only one of its kind hanging on the rack, it was more than possible that it might no longer be there – then that was the way things went.

Of course, the fact that I’m talking about it, and have a picture of it, you can tell how the story ends.

And so it may be with other decisions in life – some of which I have yet to make. I may not have time at the moment to act upon advice I’m given, and possibilities that open up themselves to me. So I’m left to go on my merry way, hoping that those opportunities will still be available to me when I return. But if not, I need to be philosophical about that. Some things just aren’t meant to be, while other things… just are.

I know I’m being a little bit cryptic about these ‘opportunities’ that have presented themselves. Some of them may not materialize, in which case there’s no point talking about them in any detail. Others are no more than hypotheticals at this point – things will happen to me in the future that I don’t even know about yet, to which the approach we took with this coat has yet to apply. So I keep this coat, not because it will ever be worn again, but because of what it what it represents; not even just because of you, but the hopes and plans for the future.

As always, honey, wish me luck, and patience. I’m going to need both of them.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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