As published in the Providence Sunday Journal, September 18, 2022. That’s me above, third from left, with my brother Rob, my grandfather, and my mom in Providence before a family wedding in 1982.
My godmother, Auntie Gerry, showered me with affection every time I walked into my grandfather’s clothing store on Federal Hill. She had come to work at Vincent’s as a 16-year-old, and was a natural at selling christening suits and First Communion dresses. Years later, I’d see her every Saturday when I reported for duty as the store’s stock boy.
The days were long, but Auntie Gerry made them fun.
“Let’s have Caserta for lunch,” she’d say, sending me around the corner to the bustling pizzeria with five dollars in hand.
“Let’s hit the jackpot,” she’d say, sliding me a scratch ticket and a penny. “If you win, we’ll split the money.”
Auntie Gerry didn’t have kids of her own, but she did have a legion of godchildren. And I was lucky enough to be one of them.
As my high school graduation approached, Auntie Gerry announced she was buying me a suit. “We’ll grab the bus and go downtown to Dino’s,” she said one Saturday morning.
We walked into the menswear store on Dorrance Street. It smelled like cologne.
“My godson is graduating from La Salle next month,” Auntie Gerry told the coiffed salesman with pride. My eyes landed on a checkered three-piece suit.
“Glen plaid,” the salesman said, inviting me to slide my arms into the jacket.
“Fancy,” Auntie Gerry said, smiling.
After several measurements, the deal was done. The suit, a smooth polyester blend, would be ready in a week. Auntie Gerry paid with cash and then took me to lunch next door at Duck Soup.
At my high school graduation, I felt resplendent in my tailored glen-plaid suit. I wore it to my cousin Steven’s wedding and to my cousin Paulie’s, too. Whenever I’d stop by my grandfather’s store, Auntie Gerry would ask me if the suit still fit.
“Still fits!” I’d say brightly.
And it still did during my senior year at Brown when, for a class dance at Rosecliff mansion in Newport, I pulled the plastic Dino’s garment bag out of my closet. At the dance, most of the guys sported blue blazers or seersucker suits. The coolest guys didn’t even wear a jacket. No one was clad in anything like my glen-plaid suit.
When I woke up in my girlfriend’s bedroom the next morning, the suit’s three pieces were draped over a chair.
“Oh, that suit!” my girlfriend said from her bed as I gathered my jacket, vest, and pants.
“What?” I said.
I looked at the checkered pattern and then back at her, bewildered.
“Where in the world did it come from?” she said, laughing.
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t tell her my godmother had bought the suit for me and that’s why I loved it. I wanted to say it didn’t matter if it was glen plaid or pinstriped or whatever, not to me anyway. But I said nothing.
The following week, when I stopped by Vincent’s, Auntie Gerry called out from the back of the store: “Suit still fit?”
Masking the shame I felt for not having responded to my girlfriend’s comments, I called back: “Still fits!”
But I already knew. The glen-plaid suit would stay in my closet for Campus Dance and the rest of graduation weekend at Brown. While the suit still fit, I had succumbed to the pressure of fitting in.