The man on the line

It could be a parlor game, if people still played those: describe the person whose clothes are hanging on the line. Not to mention that hardly anyone hangs clothes on the line to dry anymore either. The clothes hanging on my line recently attest to a certain 20th century, East coast gentleman.

The clothes came from a trunk my father took to the Pacific in World War II. The trunk has been in a shed at my summer house for a long time, but not since Armistice Day. If the clothes now in the trunk crossed the Equator, they were under consignment to an American clothier.

The clothes he stored in the trunk were ones he would need when he came for a visit. Work clothes of course, because he was an unstoppable inventor of clever solutions to house and garden problems. Handles perfectly positioned on the guest house stairs where there is no hand rail or a section of an old 8 x 8 beam with 2 6″ galvanized nails hammered in its end to keep a hose at an ideal height and in position as it entered the vegetable garden, to name two.

He liked to travel light, so the trunk also contained various clothes he knew he might need but did not want to pack: summer pajamas, two polo shirts one with his Princeton class of ’41 reunion emblem, a mock turtleneck, a Brooks Brothers blue button-down dress shirt, uncharacteristically florid boxers, very characteristic shorts in khaki and navy, a couple of hats, Nike tennis shoes converted to work shoes.

I had not thought to check the pockets before putting the clothes in the washer. After all, my father is dead so his pockets must be empty. But no, a pocket in a pair of shorts had a cotton handkerchief. My father, who never used a Kleenex, could always produce a handkerchief from his pocket. A pocket in the work shorts had a small piece of sanding cloth, not sandpaper and not steel wool, but something in between. Like the handkerchief, it was something he was going to pull from his pocket to use.

A pair of cuff links also went through the wash. Cuff links? In a shirt of my father’s? Brooks Brothers, blue, button-down, each bespeaks my father. But I only remember cuff links in his tuxedo shirts and those were small and button-like linked by a chain not bold, chunky squares of enamel with a hinged post. He did not wear jewelry — not even a wedding band.

He did sometimes buy clothes at thrift stores. A tall, good-looking man, my father followed protocol in his dress and always was impeccably dressed, unless you take away points for thrift store pants that were not quite long enough. Maybe this dress shirt was in the trunk because it was “extra” — picked up at the Johnnycake Center not on Madison Avenue in NYC.

I’m going to keep a pair of long work pants because I can use them. I’ll keep the blue Brooks Brothers button-down collar dress shirt as well, but more as a memento than to wear. I hold that handle on the stairs and run the hose between the galvanized nails. It’s Father’s Day, and so my parlor game.

  1. ellie said:

    Thank you for this sweet story about Da’s things. Funny how items can describe a life. I’ve always been sentimental about pocket contents. Eg extra tissues in fur coats, etc.

  2. Amanda Keil said:

    I recognize those sneakers, and I remember how they used to squeak on the wood floors.

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