A Letterman's Story

A Letterman's Story

A Letterman's Story

My Dehen letterman’s jacket was a hand-me-down, but that didn’t diminish my pride when I wore it for the first time in 1971. I was fourteen years old and only the second freshman in Milwaukie High School history to have earned a varsity letter in track and field.

I had to win the high jump in our final meet to qualify for letterman status, clearing a lifetime best well over my head. It was one of the proudest and happiest days of my young life.

On the Left: Terry Dove clears the high jump. On the right: Mark Dove on deck in the batter's circle

We had only a few weeks to the end of the school year, and the May weather was too warm for a letterman’s jacket. But I surely didn’t care. I was not missing out on the chance to walk the halls wearing that maroon and gold. I was a letterman, dammit. I was a freshman letterman, and proud of my accomplishment.

Rather than buy a new jacket, my mother suggested I use my brother’s old one. Mark, an outstanding scholar athlete, had lettered in football and baseball before graduating in 1970. He agreed to the transfer, and I was honored. She removed his old letter and emblems, then drove me downtown to Caplan’s Sport Shop on Southwest Fifth. Caplan’s was where everybody went to get letterman’s jackets and sweaters, as well as baseball gloves, cleats and just about anything else for athletics. There we bought a new gold “M,” a flying shoe track and field emblem, and a gold bar to represent one year. She sewed everything on that night; I wasn’t waiting one extra day.

On the Left: Mark Dove in his Dehen Varsity Jacket. On the Right: Terry Dove in the same Dehen Jacket

I remember how good that jacket felt when I slid it on, heavy and substantial on my shoulders. It was broken in and fit me well. I wore it proudly, walking to the bus stop. Some of my friends didn’t like it, accusing me of showing off, of thinking I was better than they were. But I knew if any of them had earned a letter their freshman year, they’d have worn theirs with the same pride. Eventually they all lettered in various sports, and the issue was forgotten.

I wore that Dehen jacket to school nearly every day for the next four years, also lettering in football. By the time I graduated in 1974, the coat had, combined with my brother’s use, seen six years of rough, teenaged-boy duty, draped over classroom and lunchroom chairs, stuffed into lockers and gym bags. Attending parties. Out on dates. On long bus rides on road trips. It had endured rain and snowball fights, splintered bleachers and steamy locker rooms. Somehow it held its shape and color, with all seams and pocket linings intact. Nothing frayed. Nothing wore out.

I left the coat at home when I went off to Southern Oregon State College, where I also lettered in track and field. I bought my SOSC jacket on campus, but it wasn’t a Dehen. It was a decent coat with a nice red “O,” and I wore it with pride. But next to the Dehen it simply looked, and felt, cheap and insubstantial.

The Dehen jacket remained in my childhood closet until my parents moved to Crooked River Ranch in 1998. It stayed there for another ten years, through the death of my mother in 1999, until my father died in 2009, and I took custody of it once again.

Today I’m happy to return the jacket to Dehen, where it began its journey nearly sixty years ago and where it belongs. It still holds its shape and rich maroon color. The leather sleeves remain buttery soft. And the quality, like the memories, remains intact.

- Terry Dove