Jacket weather is upon us.

It’s been a while since we’ve needed that extra layer. On a few chilly mornings last week, I stepped outside and realized I needed to go back in and grab a coat.

My grandmother had a barn coat she wore for weather like this. It was green and made of brushed cotton, with big buttons and deep pockets. Unlike some preppy customers nowadays who like this style coat but have never visited a farm, my grandmother actually wore her barn coat while working in the barn on our family farm.

She had a nickname for the coat, “Old Girl.” It hung by the back door for easy access at chore time. Soft and worn, Old Girl was durable and timeless. Just like her.

Folks who live in the country know there’s no such thing as city garbage pickup. Back in the day, you burned most of your trash there on your property. My grandparents had an outdoor fire pit specifically for burning refuse.

One windy day while Grandma was burning trash, a flame caught her arm. Thankfully, she was OK, but Old Girl was burned. The sleeve had a large hole with singed edges.

True to her thrifty nature, Gram continued to wear the coat. After all, what’s a little wear and tear to a coat you don to do farm chores?

My aunt, however, thought her mother deserved a new coat so the old “Old Girl” was retired. Gram proudly wore the new green coat, almost identical to the old one, minus the fire damage.

Things on the farm eventually changed, especially after my grandfather died. The barn was still there, but the cows and chickens were long gone. There weren’t as many chores to do, yet Grandma still wore Old Girl when she worked in the yard or fed the cats.

I lived nearby and we often took long walks together. When the temperature turned cool, she wore the familiar coat.

One morning in 1996, armed with a new camera, I experimented with black and white photography in the early daylight. By chance, I captured a memorable image of my grandmother standing near the barn, wearing the coat. The photo is now framed and sits on my bookshelf.

It’s been nearly 16 years since she passed away. In the months following the funeral, we sorted her belongings; the once busy homestead was nearly empty.

Family from out of town had returned to their homes, and I walked over to the house for a final check. I roamed aimlessly from room to room, stopping at the boys’ bedroom to marvel how three boys could live together in such a small space.

Something prompted me to open the closet door and peek inside. Expecting to see nothing, I was surprised to find a garment bag still hanging in the closet. Puzzled, I unzipped the bag.

Inside was Old Girl.

What is Gram’s coat doing here after all these weeks, and in this closet, I wondered. We had gone through her clothing, keeping some and donating the rest to charity. But there was the familiar favorite, oddly left behind.

I removed it from the bag, eager to feel a tangible connection to my lost loved one. Hesitantly, I slipped it on. We wore the same size and it fit perfectly.

I looked heavenward and asked, “Did you put Old Girl here for me to find?” It began to rain so I pulled Old Girl’s collar up to my ears, locked the front door and walked home.

When the weather turns cool, I wear the coat and think of my grandmother. Wearing it makes me feel strong, like her, as if I’m headed outside to battle the forces of nature and tackle farm chores. I’m ready for anything!

You can’t be a sissy when wearing Old Girl, you know. Jacket weather is for the stout of heart.

Contact Susan Hazlett at susanrhazlett@yahoo.com or write to her in care of The Pantagraph, 301 W. Washington St., Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.


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