I am going to lose an old friend in the next week or two, one who is literally close to my heart. During the winter we have spent nearly every day together doing chores, lambing ewes and checking cows. Through thick and thin we have been together, and we have seen some good times and lived through some tough spots. I have a warm spot in my heart for this old friend. Well, a warm spot in my heart and all through my body and arms. My old friend is my faithful old chore coat.
Tattered and worn would be compliments for my poor old coat. When people see me wearing it, they give me funny looks, and I am pretty sure most homeless would be too proud to wear one like it. Even though it is grubby and smells bad I am reluctant to part ways with it. It is just the right weight to serve as a chore coat, not too heavy as to be too hot when you are on the move but heavy enough to knock even the sharpest of winds down. It’s canvas with a blanket liner and just the perfect fit.
I got it about seven years ago for serving on the Resolutions Committee for Kansas Farm Bureau and for a couple of years it was my pride and joy going to town coat. I am not sure how or why it was turned into a chore coat. I would guess it was because the last chore coat before it finally crumbled and turned into dust. I tend to do that to chore coats.
In any case, it started out its chore coat life the hard way. Just a day or two into its new job I snagged it and put a large hole in the front. Jennifer offered to sew it up but that would have meant I would have had to wash it, and that is a definite bad idea during lambing and calving seasons. Washing your chore clothes always brings bad luck.
Somewhere along the way the pockets developed holes. It might have been from wear and tear but most likely it was caused by putting way too many things in them like gloves, medicine bottles, pliers, fence insulators, twine, syringes, pocketknives, bolts and whatever else I might need. They just do not make pockets like they used to. Then as time wore on, the holes got snagged over and over and the holes got bigger and bigger. Soon the holes melted into each other. Sometime this winter my poor chore coat was no longer canvas with blanket lining; it became blanket lining framed by the remnants of canvas.
I knew this was probably my coat’s last winter this fall (although I said the same thing last fall) so I ordered the replacement for old faithful. I thought I had ordered an exact match, but sadly it was not. The replacement was way too heavy. It is not a good thing to be too warm for a fat guy like me. It made me sweat when I was feeding and then I was wet underneath when I checked cows and that led to me getting cold. Soon the new coat was benched for the old faithful, ragged veteran. I do have to admit that the new coat did come out and was very welcome when the artic vortex was upon us for two weeks, but otherwise it was a bust.
So, I have been back to the old, trusted, broken-in chore coat. The front of it is nasty from carrying new lambs and calves, falling in the slop, and feeding in the mud. It really needs to be washed, but I am all but certain that it will not survive the washer even on gentle, and the gentle cycle would not even touch the grime it needs to eliminate. I have also been given orders by the CEO and head tyrant that the coat is to be burned and will not go into her washer. Its death warrant is signed, and I have only a matter of weeks left to say goodbye.
The end will probably come quickly. I will be out on some nice warm spring day and come home to the burn barrel going full tilt. Later I will walk into the mudroom and see the empty hook where old faithful was and realize it was ashes to ashes. I guess it is probably better that way, but I feel like I should give it one final farewell, maybe say a few words over it as a eulogy. In the end the swift goodbye is the best – no time to get teary or sentimental and no time to grant a reprieve. Just a “thanks old friend. I will have warm memories. See you on the other side.” You know what they say, old chore coats never die, they just smell that way.
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension educator for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.