A Tale of Two Jackets

by Pringle Franklin

Since living in Paris, my husband has become more of a clotheshorse. It didn’t take long for Sam to discover the cut of French clothing suited his slim build. After a short while, I became so accustomed to the form fitting jeans and shirts that I would guffaw when Sam tried to wear his American clothes.

“Oh, those khakis looks awful,” I would shriek if Sam slipped into a pair of his old pleated pants. So baggy! Why did we not recognize, while living in the United States, that slender men look clownish in wide-legged trousers? In Paris, we discovered that pants must show off the beautiful lines of the body.

So it was a natural progression, after two years abroad and our return to Charleston, that Sam would revamp his American wardrobe. While he did not dare go “full-on French”, he could not wear the standard American clothes and retain his new chic trademark. Before long, Sam had hauled off and ordered a custom-made suit. After the fittings, the pants looked perfect, but the jacket was too tight; even after adjustments, it puckered around the chest.

What to do? Eventually Sam found a trusted tailor who could rework some of his old blazers . I pushed back a tad, saying we could not afford to restyle a dozen of his favorite sport coats. We made a quick inventory of his closest. In the end, we selected five to be altered; six to leave ”as is”, and one to eliminate for being too big and boxy.

The give-away task fell to me. I stashed the unflattering jacket, a very fine camel hair, on a bench in our back hall. I planned to take it to Goodwill as soon as I had purged my house of enough clutter to fill my minivan.

Naturally the purging never happened, and the camel sport coat was left in limbo on the bench. Several weeks passed happily enough until I received an unwelcome email from my 18-year-old son’s choirmaster. It seems the maestro had been looking at videos of last year’s high school concert. The choir boys did not look uniform enough in their blue blazers and assorted pants and ties. For the upcoming fall concert, a mere week away, he was requiring black suits.

Black suits? We are not the kind of people whose boys wear black suits and run around with violin cases. This unexpected edict annoyed me.

Like his dad, Baker is slim and prefers French-cut clothes. A new suit would require alterations. There was not enough time to find one and make it fit. Plus, I did not want to spend hundreds of dollars on a black suit that he would only wear for the fall and spring choir performances. I decided to go vintage. While Baker was in school, I hunted through charity store/second-hand clothing racks until I found a black blazer that might come close to fitting. We could pair it with skinny black pants already hanging in his closet.

For $10, it seemed like a promising solution: until Baker tried on the jacket later, back at home. The padded shoulders extended past his frame, and the breadth of the jacket swallowed him in excess black material. The over-sized blazer looked even weirder with the super skinny pants.

“I cannot be seen on stage like this,” Baker said.

He had a point. Even to solve my problem of dressing him for the show, I could not pretend the outfit wasn’t ridiculous. “Don’t worry, the lady at the store said I could return the jacket,” I said. “We’ll find something.”

So the black jacket landed on the hall bench alongside the camel hair. The next morning, I was leaving my house before sunrise to serve breakfast at the local homeless shelter when I saw the two jackets.  I decided to stick them in the van. Later, when I was running errands, I would  return the black jacket and donate the camel. With one stop, I could get a $10 refund and the tax receipt my husband had requested for his blazer.

But the Lord had another plan.

It was still dark when I parked near the front of the shelter; several indistinct male figures were moving around in the shadows, skulking off toward points unknown. Soon there was only one person left at that particular moment. An elderly man sat on a bench, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the doors to open for breakfast. It was chilly, yet he was only wearing a white T-shirt and jeans. He looked slightly larger than my husband, prompting me to consider. I knew very well that Sam wanted me to donate his high-end jacket to an agency that would give him a tax receipt.

But my heart overruled my head. I pulled the sport coat out of the passenger seat and walked toward the man. He watched me as I approached in the predawn dimness, exiting a minivan with a bundle slung over my arm.

“I wonder if this might fit you?” I asked.

Despite a bit of lameness, he hopped right up and reached for the sport coat. As I helped him get his arms into the sleeves, I touched the coat and considered how soft and luxurious it felt. The man realized it too. “This is camel hair,” he said, looking at me with wonder. Then he added, “I was a tailor.”

He appreciated the quality of the jacket, even more than I had; the tailor thanked me warmly as I went inside to help set up for the morning meal.

At breakfast, the happy man wore his new blazer with pride. He held his shoulders high as he walked around the cafeteria. Even though he had a scruffy beard, limped, and wore a camouflage cap, he looked distinguished. The beige color was becoming to his chocolate brown skin. What’s more, the jacket fit him perfectly, like it had been tailor made for him.

“Thank you, Lord,” I prayed silently. “Only you could arrange all of this.”

Toward the end of my shift, the man limped over to get more coffee at the station where I was serving.

“That jacket looks real nice on you,” I said, beaming.

He looked up at my face, suddenly recognizing me as his benefactress. He grinned

“Let me show you something.” He reached into the inside breast pocket. I could not see what he was holding because he kept his fingers curled around it. After a moment, he opened his hand to reveal my husband’s name tag from church: Sam Franklin.

“They call me Sam. That’s my name,” he said. 

“Your name is Sam too?” I said. We were both amazed. One jacket, worn by two Sams.

This jacket was one of many in my Sam’s closet, and it was often left unworn. Yet the same jacket had quickly become the prized possession of another Sam, a tailor for 40 years now down on his luck. Without the comfort of a permanent home or even a car, this other Sam would at times be forced to wander the streets. To him, owning the camel hair jacket meant holding onto something soft and lovely to ease a tough patch in his life.

If I had not needed to return the choir jacket, I would not have brought the camel hair with me that morning. Again, I chuckled to myself and silently gave the glory to God. As I left the shelter around 8 o’clock, the sun was up, but it was still chilly. A middle-aged woman wearing a short-sleeved shirt, jeans, and a toboggan sat on the bench, near where the tailor had been earlier.

At a glance it was clear that the woman had no place to go; the way she sat, huddled against the bench, showed she was cold, but all the same, she had smiled nicely at me. We exchanged greetings, and I headed to my car.

Before driving away, I wondered….and decided yes, why not? I grabbed the black jacket and walked back over to her. When I held up the sport coat and asked if she knew anyone who might want it, she scooped it up. “Oh, that feels good,” she said, nestling into it. “I was so cold. Thank you so much.”

We chatted for a few moments before I left her there, beaming with gratitude. I thought about the countless men’s sport coats in the charity store, and how the Lord had enabled me to find one that would be too big for my son and small enough for the woman. It wasn’t a perfect fit like the tailor’s, but it didn’t look half bad. Even if she alternated between wearing it and draping it over her like a blanket, the jacket would be worth far more than $10 to her.

How to Handle a Line Jumper

downloadby Pringle Franklin

CHARLESTON, S.C.—I realized my mistake as soon as I walked through the door.

Clusters of students from the College of Charleston were sitting in the waiting room of the city’s traffic and parking office. The fall semester at the college had recently begun, and about 10 students were in the beehive-like governmental complex to apply for residential decals so they could park their cars downtown. The normal handful of random citizens was also there, waiting.

I had come to get a parking sticker for my mother’s car. Too bad we had not taken care of this during the summer, when the office would have been less crowded. I felt a flush of resentment, then told myself — let it go. No need to get worked up about why that did not happen. I considered coming back another day, but I was already over there with the required paperwork. I decided to submit to my fate, take a number, and wait.

However, the system in the waiting room was not entirely in order. The dispenser that spits out numbers for the queue was out of paper. What am I supposed to do? I wondered.

One of the female students noticed my hesitancy and spoke up: “There are little cards with numbers sitting inside.”

I opened the mouth of the dispenser to see a stack of blue cards. I withdrew the top card: No. 70.

The digital display on the wall flashed No. 52. That meant 18 numbers were ahead of mine, but there were only about 14 people waiting. “I got No. 70, and that doesn’t seem quite right,” I reported to the girl who had been helpful.

“Some of those cards are not in order,” she said. “You might want to look through the box.” Several other students laughed in confirmation.

Before I could review the numbers, a middle-aged woman beat me to the punch. (She had come into the office several minutes after me, apparently without taking a number.) After hearing the conversation, she scuttled over and opened the dispenser, searched through the stack and selected a number. When she was done, I looked through the remaining cards: none was lower than 70. Curious, I asked the woman what she had drawn out. Reluctantly she held up No. 69.

I could tell by the annoyed yet guilty look on her face, she was not going to offer to switch. How crazy is that? My son had accompanied me to the office and was currently outside parking, so the line jumper was inconveniencing two of us. Normally I would have spoken up, as most folks in Charleston are willing to do what’s fair, especially if you make a polite request. However, the woman was bony, her face haggard, and her demeanor suggested weariness. 

The Holy Spirit prompted me toward stillness. So I said nothing and sat down. The woman looked relieved. She moved to the far side of the room and took a seat.

Time passed. I listened as the two clerks called out numbers — 53, 54, 55, 56 — and processed the requests. Before long my son Benton joined me in the waiting room, but I did not mention any of the drama to him. He saw the length of the line and decided to wait for me outside. The line moved along at a slow but steady pace as I sat quietly.

To my surprise, I was not irritated by the 25-minute wait or the woman’s breech of conventional courtesy. Quite the contrary. I felt blessed. The Holy Spirit had equipped me to react to the line jumper in meekness. Meekness is one of those “virtues” which most of us neither understand nor admire. It is certainly not my normal response: I know how to stand up for myself. My lamb-like acceptance was newborn, sired by my regular practice of interior stillness before God in the early mornings.

But this stillness before the Word will exert its influence upon the whole day.  If we have learned to be silent before the Word, we shall also learn to manage our silence and our speech during the day.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Modern Spirituality Series

My daily half hour of meditation, also known as Centering Prayer, has changed my perception of ordinary life, fostering patience where previously there might have been frustration. Another fruit of this daily silence is the gift of insight. Often it arrives as a sudden realization, the scales falling from my eyes, allowing me to see things from a more highly evolved point of view.

As I sat, my mind received the reason why I had been kept from asking to switch numbers: the woman already knew that she was breaking the rules. She didn’t need me to point it out to her. In fact, she needed to conduct this small moral struggle on her own.

By not staking a claim to go first, I had given the woman space to make her decision about whether or not to do the right thing. With this clarity, I found myself hoping that she would turn to the better part of her nature even now — not to help me, but to help her.

“Number 69,” the clerk called.

I did not allow myself to turn around to watch her get up. My shoulders and neck felt tense with hopeful expectation. Would she walk over and offer to let me go in her place? Would she follow the Voice Within to do unto others as she would have done unto her?

Moments later, I heard her talking at the clerk’s window, going about her business. Despite my prayers for her to be victorious in this small arena, the woman had acted in service of her own interests. There was no moral victory. I felt my spirit fall, like the sudden drop on a roller coaster.

Yet the Lord will grant this woman another opportunity, on another day. He’s gracious like that, setting up selfish vs. unselfish choices before us as many times as it takes until we finally clear the hurdle. I prayed that, in her next round, she would prevail. At least, by God’s grace planted in me during Centering Prayer, I had respected her right to grapple with her moral dilemma in silence.