Al Batt: Is that a cat hair coat you’re wearing?

Published 9:12 pm Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Nature’s World by Al Batt

“You’re not going to need a jacket.”

That’s something my mother never said.

Email newsletter signup

One day, it feels winter coatish. It happens every year. It quickly becomes musk ox weather. We know it’s coming, but we don’t expect it. Cold temperatures often appear before the rumors of cold weather start.

When cold hits with a vengeance, we put on winter coats with a vengeance. At least some of us do.

I talked to a guy on one of those 15 degree below zero days who was wearing shorts and sandals, but he wasn’t completely insane. He was wearing a winter coat. Some might question his mental fitness, but he wasn’t unlike those Polar Bear Club members who dive into frigid waters to get other people to question their mental fitness.

I grew up wearing winter coats that might have outweighed me. If I whined about the cold, I was told to stop complaining about the weather because I had better things to do  — like putting on a winter coat that weighed more than I did.

I don’t enjoy seeing the winter coat come out of the closet, but I love wearing it. It keeps me in the vicinity of being warm. That’s much better than freezing in place.

A coat becomes a second skin in January. That’s the way I was taught. We move away from those early teachings because we’ve lost many articles of clothing, but we come back because we’re cold. Winter is when heavy outerwear becomes a friend. On particularly cold days, I wish I could wear a sleeping bag.

On a day well below zero, I watched the grade school students leaving the school to begin their trip home by bus, car or shank’s pony. Shank’s pony refers to using one’s legs as a means of locomotion and derives from the name of the part of the leg between the knee and ankle — the shank. The youngsters were dressed as if they were Antarctic explorers. The junior high kids exited another door of the school and were hit by the harsh elements while dressed as if they were living in the tropics.

Had the lightly dressed young people shed their winter coats too early as a misguided squirrel might do? Had it been a massive wardrobe malfunction? Did they believe that being warm was a sign of weakness? I’m too old to remember. I do recall not being properly dressed for winter when a friend of my father’s asked, “What do you think Allen will be when he grows up?“

My father replied, “About 80 years old.”

I had an excuse. Not long after I’d watched a film in school about the bomb and its mushroom cloud, there was an explosion at a local elevator. There appeared to be a mushroom cloud. The school’s windows shook, but not as much as the students. That experience explains every stupid thing any member of my class has ever done. 

During those dim days of my youth, my mother found a winter coat sale at Monkey Ward’s. It was long enough ago that clothing lacking a brand name displayed prominently wasn’t necessarily cheaper. My new coat, brand unknown and covered in plastic, was warm, but it froze stiff in the cold, leaving me feeling like a balloon in a Thanksgiving Day parade. A favorite moment in my past was when I outgrew that plastic coat.

Later, on the same day as when those students emptied the school, I sat near the windows of a library. Pulling my eyes from the page of a book, I aimed them at people entering the library. I found the sight comforting. They were dressed for the cold. I hope they found that comforting.

My current winter coat has either too many pockets or not enough pockets. It has a bad zipper — a requirement to be my coat. Our cat’s hair sticks to everything but the cat. It adds a layer of warmth to my winter coat. I don’t wash my coat until spring. I hope dirt adds another layer of insulation.

A coat determines a person’s feelings toward winter. There is an old Scandinavian saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”

One thrilling day of yesteryear, I told a visiting friend, “I know my mother loves me because she makes me wear a warm coat.”

After he’d left, my smiling mother told me that she’d overheard my comments and asked, “What made you say that?”

“I heard you sneaking up on us.”

Be warm.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.