Nova Massie's James Dean leather jacket was, without doubt, my favorite of all our wedding presents. One problem: it was a present to Nova Massie, not me! And, as such, it was tailor made to FIT a taller, leaner Indonesian, not me. I was slender enough back then (just barely; even though at about 130 pounds, Nova called me his "fat American friend"), but the sleeves were WAY too long! They extended to the tips of my fingernails, and beyond! But I LOVED that leather jacket, and it WAS a caliber of quality apparel missionaries aren't normally accustomed to, so we looked into the option of having it altered. However, there was no way to shorten the sleeves without drastically affecting those zippers that ran down each arm right to the wrists. I absolutely hated the idea; I felt sure it would unavoidably eliminate a good 12-15% of the "COOL," and irreversibly add about that same quantity of "LAME," but we simply couldn't come up with any other way. It was a reprehensible, unconscionable thing to do to such a fine specimen of animal hide! Nevertheless, we went ahead and had those sleeves cropped by the most skilled artisan we could find. It was still an exceptionally beautiful jacket, post-travesty. Of course, anyone could see those zippers had been shortened in a brutal and unnatural manner, but it really didn't look so lame, after all. But, now that I had my dream leather jacket, there was the further matter of finding the appropriate occasion for donning it! I had been single; a footloose and fancy free bachelor, ever able to perpetrate my own knuckleheaded nonsense (Genesis 2:18), right up until June 11, 1988. Now, I was 32, married, a graduate of Bible school, and moving forward into Boot Camp; serious and intensive missionary training with a respected, conservative evangelical organization. Back then (in the Wogie days), beards were not even allowed in New Tribes! So that amazing leather jacket I loved hung in the closet, forsaken and forlorn, like an old, neglected, painfully ugly tie given by sweet old Aunt Millie as a birthday gift long, dusty decades ago. We had one closet, in particular, whereunto all such abandoned items were eventually consigned. I very rarely had occasion to peer into that dark no man's land, but when I did, my eyes would always light there, and those old, wistful longings would be awakened once again. An older man now, married and settled, the uncomfortable reality, too, is I began to put on weight. I tipped the scale at about 128 pounds when I first drove up to NTBI Jackson, MI, in the summer if '86. I was actually able to avoid putting on my "freshman fifteen" until my senior semester (I blame it on all those free meals I got from working part-time as a waiter at Ponderosa!) And then, thankfully, it was not a full fifteen, but only ten. So I weighed in at a pleasantly plump 138 on our wedding day. When I signed up for missionary training, I thought for sure I would be tromping the dense jungles of Africa, or climbing the mountains of Brazil, a dashing pioneer missionary endeavoring to establish contact with some remote tribe. Instead, I ended up in a "desk job" (one that I've loved dearly, of course). A career studying the Bible is about as sedentary as you can get. And when you're a missionary with chronically low support, as we were for a number of years, and some wonderful fellow-saint takes you out to dinner, you tend to dine like someone who is afraid he may never fare so sumptuously again! That can become a real problem when you find yourself some generous friends, and end up faring sumptuously far more than you ever imagined. My expanded girth, then, proved a second constraint on the wearing of my favorite cowhide. Bottom line: I ended up actually wearing it only a couple times over more than twenty years: on those rare occasions when the Bible school sponsored a costumed social (vivid memories of a "60's Skate Night" come to mind), AND when, through long, hard dieting and rigorous months of hitting my trusty K-Mart elliptical machine, I happened to get myself back to that svelte 135 pound frame, even if only for a fleeting moment. If I had a quarter for every time my dear wifey urged me to take that leather over to Goodwill, well, I still wouldn't be Bill Gates, exactly, but I'd be a much richer Richards than I am! But I steadfastly resisted this counsel, reasonable though it was. I just kept stubbornly thinking that, someday, I would take off those excess pounds again and KEEP them off, and would grow just bold and cavalier enough to wear that leather banner in respectful disregard of the shock and scandal it might provide at good ol' NTBI. For whatever reason, I kept that old leather around.
Then, there was this young man who gave brief hope that, finally, that leather jacket would see the light of day and get the wear and exposure it deserved. Levi loved it. And he was just the guy who could carry it off, with his slender build, dark, wavy hair and boyish good looks. I've said it before; to me, he was the millennial generation's improvement on James Dean. I sincerely believe I would have been even more thrilled to see Levi sporting that leather than if I had been able to wear it daily myself; that jacket seemed absolutely MADE for him. Or, it would have been, before some crazy person went and cropped the sleeves! At 5'10", Levi was just freakishly tall for a Richards. The shortened sleeves didn't extend much further than his elbows. So, again, the leather held its peace in its perpetual place on a hanger in that darkened closet.
But Levi led Hattie to Christ. Or at least he played THE major role in befriending her and preparing her heart to receive the Truth. I guess you could consider Levi the spiritual father of this wonderful young lady his own age who now knows and loves Jesus because of the faithfulness of our son. And I. I have the GREAT honor and privilege of being both Levi's biological and spiritual father (His mom and I shared the joy of leading him to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ). And Dean Flanders led me to Christ at WCAR-radio in 1982. That makes Dean Hattie's spiritual GREAT grandfather.
We simply HAD to get rid of a LOT of stuff when we moved out of our home of 26 years in Waukesha, WI. Many things were sold, many given to Goodwill; many simply tossed in the dumpster. And one of the items that tugged most on my heart was that James Dean leather jacket; still looking as cool as ever, even with the cropped sleeves. Up to nearly the last minute, we hoped to find a worthy buyer for this hardly worn beauty, but to no avail.
The day before we drove off, I had the most brilliant inspiration (even if I do say so, myself)! I brought out the jacket, showed it to Hattie, and asked her if she'd be interested. She didn't need to say a thing; the light in her face and eyes was all the answer I needed. Of course! It fit Hattie's personality LIKE A GLOVE. She tried it on, and it fit her physical frame EVEN BETTER (the sleeves were PERFECT, btw)! Of course it did . . . It was clearly intended for her all along. As for me, I'm perfectly thrilled we were able to keep it all in the family.