On Christmas morning I put on my father’s tie. It’s an old Botany 500, one manufactured just after late-’50s thin but well before early-’70s wide.
The tie is solid red, mostly polyester with a hint of silk, and has a pattern of very small blue and tan squares and the signature “500” near the tip. For some reason, I remember my father wearing this tie more than any others. Maybe that’s because it was a basic red, or maybe because it’s mine now and I’d like to think of it that way.
Botany 500 manufactured clothes in Philadelphia from the 1940s until the mid-1990s, when it moved its operations abroad. It fashioned the likes of Danny Thomas in “Make Room for Daddy” and Dick Sargent in “Bewitched” – the quintessential mid-20th-century businessman’s look.
As I crossed, flipped, turned and tucked the material into a half-Windsor, I couldn’t help thinking of my dad and how many times he had stood before a mirror, like me, performing the same ritual.
I thought of the many times I saw him wearing this very tie. I see my father, a mid-level manager at a plastic-bottle factory, walking in the house just after 5 o’clock while deep purple dusk settled the sky during the colder months. He’d be wearing a white shirt, slacks and a sport jacket, or a full suit. Often in the warmer months and brighter early evenings, I’d run the two blocks to the corner where he turned on to our street. He’d pull over and let me in, and we’d drive the rest of the way home together, talking about our day.
On days when I was too sick to go to school, but not too sick to play with Legos or Matchbox cars on the living room floor, Dad would come home for lunch a few minutes past noon. Around him as he came in, I could see bits of dust tossed up by my mother’s housework sparkling in the sunlight that slanted in through the window.
He’d ask me how I was feeling, press his palm against my forehead and then head into the kitchen, where Mom had a lunch ready for him. After eating, he’d lie down on the couch for a quick nap, suit jacket off but tie still tight up on the collar and laid perfectly straight.
Looking at my tie in the mirror, I saw it transported to that place and time.
I thought about those special occasions that called for more formal attire, such as weddings, where a side of my father that wasn’t ordinarily visible emerged. He would swoop my mother onto the dance floor and jitterbug like a primo hepcat.
There were also funerals, where I’d see him console others with sensitivity and wisdom, strength and understanding.
My father has been gone for more than 22 years, yet this 50-year-old tie binds the gaps of time and joins us in heart.
Some people are able to leave a strong financial legacy as a foundation for their children. But as our economy continues to sputter, fewer Americans will be in a position to leave their children much at all.
My parents lived a modest life. There was no great estate. But I have my father’s necktie, and on Christmas morning I put it on. His legacy grows each time I do.
• Dean P. Johnson is a freelance writer and a high school English teacher in Camden, N.J.