Dad said that the first time he'd ever laid eyes on "tha suit" his Uncle Jimmy was wearin it, not well, but wearin it jist the same. Dad was nineteen years-old by then and it was nineteen thirty-four. The First World War was jist a bad memory in most people's minds and Grammy Stevens kept sayin "Thank You God!" because none of her family had been called up to lay their lives on tha line for that shitty war!
Dad looked out from under his eyebrows at his uncle and seein the spectacle he was makin of himself, wondered to himself why any fool would go and buy an ugly thing like that! The suit seemed to take on a life of its own as old Jim flashed himself here and there around the crowded kitchen.
The old farm house on the Garfield Road still didn't have electricity and the dull light from several kerosene lamps only served to illustrate the fact that the suit was a hideous mustard brown. The roughly woven material had a somewhat "nubby" appearance and if one ventured closer, you could see a thin, shimmery metallic thread runnin through it at irregular intervals.
Old Jim was as proud as a peacock to think that he was the only one at the wake who was wearin a suit. In his mind's eye, as he flashed himself here and there, he thought that when he approached a knot of people and folks stopped talkin and stared at him with their mouths open, they were takin note of how good he looked. "They're jist envious of how dern good I look," he told himself but in reality everyone was commenting to each other about how horrible the suit really was.
Nobody was payin any attention to the grieving widow or to the elderly man layin in the coffin. Every time Jim Swept past, all conversation stopped and folks laughed into their sleeves about jist how stoopid he looked but Jim was oblivious to it all. And as the hour got later and the liquor got stronger, folks began makin outright comments regarding the suit. "Say Jim, where in hell didja say yah found this thing?" they'd ask as they gingerly lifted the edge of the heavy lapel. Unhappy at havin someone touch the precious material, he'd quickly reach up, smooth the collar back into place and reply in a huffy voice, "Got it down ta Bangor at one of the finer men's stores. Yah'd never be able to find anything like this in any of the stores in this part of the County." People would snort and chuckle at his remarks and quickly agree amongst themselves that they hoped tah hell they'd never find anything like it ever in their lifetime.
And with that he'd move on to someone else who after havin consumed several bottles of rotgut liquor, mustered the courage to ask another question about his precious suit. "So Jim, how much didja have to part with to git this friggin thing? Old Jim would simply back away from the probing fingers, and the stale whisky breath, smile proudly that his suit was gittin so much attention, slide his hand into the poorly lined pockets, throw his scrawny shoulders back and reply, "Oh, it didn't cost all that much. I got a real good buy cause the feller that ordered it, dropped dead en it didn't fit anybody else." And he'd move on.
Hearin this explanation, folks would nudge each other, wink and laugh figuring that the real truth was that when the buyer laid eyes on the suit for the first time, that seein something so ugly up close, well, it musta been tha shock had probably killed him!
As the years wore on, Old Jim and his precious suit made the rounds in Aroostook County from weddings, to funerals, to barn raisins, to open houses, to graduations, to baby showers and Christenins. If it was a social occasion, Old Jim was there. He was really a social animal and if there was any kind of shindig goin on within a radius of fifty miles of his old house, he'd be there come hell or high water! By now, he and the brown suit were famous. He, for bein a genuinely nice guy and tha suit, for bein so friggin ugly.
Folks said that the older the suit got, the rattier it became and that tha small, shiny thread that ran through tha material became very brittle over the years and began breaking apart and stuck out all over the place. People laughed at Old Jim as he came struttin down tha Street, looking jist like a friggin big, brown, prickly porcupine.
Old Jim's suit was the butt of town folks jokes all tha time as they said things to each other like, "Say Bernie, wasn't that your youngest kid who cried all through his Christenin tha other Sunday?" "Yah, Jaysus it was!" "Well, was tha kid sick or somethin?" "Nope, he wasn't. It's jist that he looked up en saw Old Jim in that Christly brown suit en it scared him half to death. We jist couldn't shet him up!"
Or… "Swear to God! I was passin Old Jim's place tha other day en I saw him splittin his wood." "Well, what's wrong with that?" "Nothin, nothin atall, but it sure seemed funny to see his coat tails flappin every time he swung tha ax!" "Yah mean he was wearin the suit ta chop his wood?" "Jaysus! Yah certainly are slow! That's what I've been tryin to tell yah!"
Sometimes folks jist have to bow to their meaner sides and they'd begin placin bets as to when Old Jim might wear the suit next. It might be ninety degrees in tha shade and he'd still appear all done up in his mustard brown or shit-brindle brown suit as some better educated folks had taken to callin it. Rivers of sweat would be runnin down his freshly shaved cheeks and he'd simply reach up with a thick work-worn finger and flick the offending stream of sweat off his face or neck and carry on as if he was the coolest dude in tha county. It wouldn't be too long before flies, mosquitoes and mingies, attracted by his smell and heat, began following him around in swarms.
Folks, upon seein how hot Old Jim was, tried time after time to pry the tawdry suit jacket off his scrawny body but he jist wouldn't part with any part of it. He never let the temperature, be it ninety degrees in tha shade or thirty clapboards below zero, deter him from his social obligations. He and the suit were always there. Folks said that Old Jim and his ratty suit could clear a party quicker than any pickup full of cops.
At the years drug on, Old Jim aged and shrunk and tha cuffs on the jacket hung down over his fists and the hems of his pants drug below the heels of his shoes in the dirt. Some of the church sewing guild ladies, upon seeing how seedy Old Jim looked, talked about offering to alter the suit a dite for him but somehow, they couldn't bring themselves to make the offer. It was jist too ugly and they valued their reputation as being a fine sewer too much to ever attempt tha alterations. There wasn't anything one could do that would have improved that suit!
The day finally came when Old Jim died and upon hearin tha sad news, folks were beside themselves with curiosity. "Would his long-sufferin wife bury Old Jim in his precious suit?" This was the question that was on everybody's lips. Folks all agreed that this funeral would be one of the best attended in Ashland's history. Folks couldn't wait to see that friggin ugly material buried six feet under the fertile soil of Aroostook County. Some folks even kidded quietly to one another that it was a good thing that that tha material was going into the graveyard because sure as hell nothin would ever grow where that material had been buried! "Probably wouldn't burn either," they speculated.
Mother said that a couple of days before the funeral, Dad received a call from Mr. Seeley, Old Jim's lawyer, that he needed to see him in regard to his Uncle Jim's final bequest. Dad, upon hearin this surprising piece of news, hurried off to the lawyer's office. Mother said it wasn't too long before Dad came back and he had a large bundle gingerly tucked under his arm and he didn't look too happy about it.
Dad came into the kitchen where Mother sat shellin peas and heaved the heavy package onto the kitchen table. Mother said she looked at him and jist as tha questions came onto her tongue, Dad stalked over to tha fridge and grabbed one of his cold, home brews. After he'd sucked down half tha bottle he slid into his regular place at the head of the table and finally told her what had happened at Mr. Seeley's office.
Dad said he was shocked beyond words when his Uncle Jim's final wishes were made known. Old Jim's final words were specifically for Dad, his favorite nephew. He stated that of all the folks who had loved his dearest treasure, it was Dad who had commented most often about it every time Old Jim was wearin it. So, it stood to reason that Dad should inherit it over everyone else in town. Since it was Dad who'd loved it almost as much as Old Jim, he was leavin his precious brown suit to Dad!
Dad said that upon hearin this unwelcome piece of news, he'd sat back in his chair and refused to take it and when Mr. Seeley had handed the paper wrapped package to Dad, Dad had held it like it was burnin hot! Folks around town, when finally hearin the story, laughed their asses off. Poor Dad got an awful lot of good natured kidding by everyone who'd heard the story. Folks kept askin Dad if he intended on wearin the suit to the funeral.
Folks came for mile around to see Old Jim put in the ground of Aroostook County and they all agreed that seeing Old Jim layin in his casket gave them all a good start. "What do you mean by that?" they were asked. "He was an old man and yah can't expect to live forever!" "Well," they replied. "It was jist somewhat disconsertin to see him layin there in a different suit that's all."
When they'd finally gotten home after the ceremony, Mother looked around tha kitchen and finally asked Dad where he'd put tha suit. Dad, pourin himself a tall shot of Gin, gave her a long look and before he answered, took a quick swig of the drink. Mother said Dad's blue eyes danced a little like he was enjoyin the situation for the first time and then he said, "Well Mum, there's moren one way ta skin a cat." Mother, her curiosity peaked by this cryptic remark, waited for Dad to explain.
"You know that my last batch of homebrew was an especially good batch this time?" Mother nodded her head. "Well," Dad went on. "And you know that old Mr. Stimpson has an unusual fondness for strong spirits?" Again Mother nodded her head. "Well," Dad explained, "All I had to do was offer tha undertaker a couple of bottles of my new brew en he would have done anything I wanted." Mother, finally saw the light and then she asked, "Ok, I understand all that but where is tha suit?' Dad looked at her, grinned his widest grin and said," It's finally restin exactly where it should have been all these years. It's down tha Sheridan Road in tha Ashland Cemetery, six feet under Uncle Jim! I figured it'd make a nice sort of cushion for Old Jim on his final journey because none of tha creatures that live in tha dirt in tha cemetery are ever going to eat that thing anyway!"
Autobiography of a Simple Soul
Memories, Another Place - Another Time
Recently Published Articles include:
Dad - The Final Years
Dad and Me
Book Reviews include:
Childrens Stories include:
See also Vengeance is Mine a short mystery novel published at Magic City over 4 days.
All works by Martha Stevens-David published at Magic City Morning Star News are her copyright property and may not be reproduced without her permission.