When the first Patagonia fleece that zipped all the way down came out, my dad bought one for his mother. She wore it while she raked leaves in the fall, flicking off my dad’s friends, joking with the neighbors, and smoking cigarettes. When she passed from cancer, my dad repossessed the fleece, and started wearing it in Vermont when we burned brush piles in the winter. He actively managed the fires with a rake, and embers would occasionally kick out from the fire and land on the fleece and fizzle out and manifest like cigarette burns. I’m not a religious guy, but the mystical side of me thinks that maybe Grandmother was reaching out from cigarette heaven to try and touch my Dad.
At some point in the late 90s, Dad relegated the red Patagonia to the front hall closet. He had some new jackets and now that we were done clearing around the house, we didn’t have as many brush piles to burn. In those days, the red Patagonia only came out when we had unprepared guests who didn’t anticipate the gravity of the Vermont winters; friends who showed up who didn’t plan for the humidity of the cold in our state, the severity of our darkness, the rabid bite of the winds.
Several years after college, after my first failed “real job” experience as a corporate paralegal in New York City, I took a job in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, working at a backcountry lodge. I started in September, and faced with the prospect of the impending cold – at elevation, no less – I searched through my parents’ house for suitable gear. And that’s when I became the third generation of my family to don the red Patagonia.
I wore that goddamn Patagonia for five seasons in the Appalachian Mountain Club, I wore it for two winters in Jackson Hole, WY, skiing for over 100 days each season. It was the first article of clothing I packed when I headed to Africa for several months. I wore it when I swanned the highest bungee jump in the world; it was what I was wearing when I rode an Ostrich in Oudtshoorn, South Africa. It soon became a hallmark of my being.
I’ll never forget when the zipper finally kicked the bucket this June and I headed to the Patagonia store to get a replacement. The girl at the desk handled the red Patagonia like I had just handed her the original Michael Jackson glove from the “Bad” tour. She looked up from the relic in her hands and said, “Hey guys, come get a look at this.” As the other store clerks circled around to inspect this piece of history, she asked me if I wanted to replace the fleece since it was riddled with holes. I looked at her like she was crazy. “Just the zipper, please, but make sure it is purple, just like the original.” She looked at me sideways and wrote a repair tag out on her computer “PLEASE MAKE SURE IT IS A PURPLE ZIPPER.”
I still wear it. When the autumn air turns to cold, and the wind sweeps through the skeleton trees and pulls our jackets out of our closets with their “you’ve forgotten me” smells, I’ll reach for the red Patagonia. I’ll ride my bike into work and someone will whistle as I walk down the hallway to the shower and say, “About time for a new fleece?” And I’ll turn and smile: “What’s wrong with this one? As far as I’m concerned, it is just about perfect.”