A Cold Wind Blows

by Mike Hemming

There they are, hanging side by side... Warmth and some memories. One is almost new, the other old, stained, with its faded patches and frayed edges. Back then, foul weather jackets came in 2 styles... The medium green ones with the high unlined collar and a green lining. It’s warm and nice. The other style is the light dull gray green with the shorter collar lined with that brown kinda itchy fake fur stuff. Turned inside out it’s great to play Viking in and it’s really warm.

The newer of the two but still aged 30 some years, was issued to me not long before I got out. When he heard I was getting out the COB said,

"Turn that jacket in when you leave."

My other jacket had a busted zipper and was marked with 5 years of smokeboat snipe living and working. I didnt want to give up the new one. So when the day came a squeeze and a slight twist with 2 pairs of pliers on the new ones zipper.

"Hey COB, this jacket's got a screwed-up zipper."

Giving me that look that is issued to all COBs on the boats when confronted with a lying bubblehead, he opens his mouth to say, "Give me the jacket, Idiot."

But maybe seeing the look on my face, his voice says,

"Okay, keep it... You'll be back."

Sorry COB, it never happened... It didn’t even come close. But I wish you hadn't died not long before our first reunion, so I could have thanked you for the jacket with its quickly repaired zipper and well... A few other things too.

The other jacket with its truly worn out zipper and patina of grease and stink went with me. The wife never said a word about it. In fact, once before we had it cleaned and rezippered, I caught her standing at the open closet door with her eyes closed and inhaling.

She is a true smokeboat sailor’s wife.

The dry cleaners however, didn’t have the same appreciation for such olfactory stimulation. The lady looked at the jacket laying on the counter like it was made of leper's bandages and I swear, would have picked it up with tongs if they had been handy. But a week later there it was... My jacket faded more now but with just enough black grease stains left. The artwork on the back, my name in red, white and blue inks with the screw drawn under it, is still visible. Even the lines indicating motion show. The lines that show a screw backing down, so when asked about it, the answer was,

"Damn straight! I'm backing out of this navy as fast as possible."

The lady said,

"That the best we could do with the stains, and the odor... Well."

"That’s fine", I said, "It's perfect, just like that."

A raised eyebrow was her only answer. Some will never understand, I guess.

So now when a cold wind blows and I reach for warmth and memories, the old jacket is my first choice. When I walk in it, hands deep in those fuzzy pockets, shoulders hunched to bring the too-short collar up nearer my ears, every once in a while my nose catches a scent of salt tinged air and my feet are on a slotted walking deck.