When my father died in 2009, his widow handed me a black cashmere overcoat. This was your father’s, she said, try it on. It fit perfectly and looked brand new.
The coat’s labels are from the early 1960’s. This was when the young Naval Officer who would be my father was transferred to Washington, DC. It was also when he met his future wife at a cocktail party. Her kind, thrifty and newly prosperous father took an instant liking to him. It’s quite possible that he made the poor but hard-working and handsome young man a gift of this fine coat.
Dearth of good things
The enemies of the American middle class sucessfully destroyed American manufacturing decades ago. These days the remaining American producers are mostly small, niche outfits. For years I went out of my way to purchase clothing, shoes, tools and other necessary items made by these companies in the USA. Places like Rancourt and Company of Maine put out what used to be considered standard quality goods. It wasn’t so long ago in America that standard quality used to mean hard-wearing and made to last. To our impoverished eyes such out-of-reach and generally unavailable items appear wildly luxurious.
Sears Craftsman made in USA
An expectation of good value
Are you of an age to remember Sears Craftsman tools? They were made in USA, fairly priced, and never seemed to wear out. Maybe you still have some of these older Craftsmen screwdrivers. Americans used to have fewer - but better - things.
In the 1950’s or early 1960’s the parent of a friend of mine purchased a mixer. The motor burned out after only 3 or 4 years. My friend’s parent was outraged at the obviously poor quality. He went back to the store with the broken item and received both a sincere apology from the understanding manager and a brand new replacement.
Eyes to see
My how we’ve learned to love junk! We accept expensive things produced in slave-labor conditions. Who knows or cares where it’s made. If it breaks we throw it away and buy another. We can’t fix any of this stuff anyway because most things are made to look shiny, self-destruct and be unserviceable.
Buying good-looking garbage is the very opposite of thrift. Cheapness in a person is vice. In an object it’s a mark of poverty.
There’s a connection to Jesus’ warning to the church of Laodicea:
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and [that] the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. -Revelation 3.17-18
Oh America, where is your self-respect?
About 10 years ago I purchased a modern cashmere overcoat made in America by Hart Schaffner Marx. It’s a good enough coat. But it can’t compare with my father’s. The older American coat is plush. The cashmere is noticeably thicker, softer, and denser than the modern one. The lining is silkier.
The tailoring on the new coat is acceptable. But the older one is immaculate. There are no hanging threads anywhere. Not one seam puckers. The 50 year old buttons are still tight and secure.
Side by side, the difference in quality is unmistakable.
Using the good paper
My favorite black raincoat finally wore out this year. I’ve been unable to find a replacement. It was made by a company you would recognize, and was only 4 or 5 years old. Its inner lining ripped early on. Two years ago I had the tailor shorten and fold over the cuffs to hide where the material had worn. But now the lining was shredding, and the collar showed obvious deterioration. Last week I folded it up and put it in the trash. Doesn’t this sound just a little like what people experienced in the former Soviet Union?
This morning was dark and chilly. In desperation I took out my father’s coat. It’s too good to wear. But I put it on anyway. It feels like a million bucks. I only wish my father had worn it himself.
The father of my wife’s friend suffered a heart attack not long ago. He tells everyone now, Use the good paper.
Be a good Christian example to those around you. Only buy the best stuff you can find.
And. Just for today, Use the good paper.
UPDATE: The meaning of “use the good paper” is a little obscure. I try to explain it in this comment below.