The Leather Jacket/a Story of Karma

by Susan Barrett

     She kissed the leather jacket as she handed it to him and said,"May it always keep you safe."

He'd just packed his Harley for a trip to somewhere,and at her age,his grandmother just knew she'd never see him again.

     A long time ago,in a place far from where I now call home,there was a man,and his name was Ralph Vitalie.He was lean and tall,with a full head of long black hair,and the people that became his family called him Chief.

     He was riding home one day,on his own street when he saw that kid on the steps,just watching him. Again.

     "That kid " wound up being my old man and husband for almost thirty years,but this part of the story is before me.

     So, Ralph pulls over and asks the kid why he's staring at him all the time,and the kid answers that,one day,he's going to have a motorcycle too.

     About a weekend or so later,there's Ralph,with a basketcase B.S.A. for the kid,and another biker was born.Born a broken knuckle at a time.By the time the kid was old enough to get his license,he had that bike up and running,with a couple of years riding experience under his belt.

     Ralph bacame Chief,I always called "the kid" Lance,and for many,many years,they were inseperable.

     I'm going to fast-forward some years,to one Laconia weekend,where I come in.

     I was 13,and my older brother had to do some creative lying to get me out of the house,but he did it,and we were off to my first Laconia weekend,the longest running motorcycle meet in New England.

     "Not just for la-z-y boys",said Chief,with a wink,as he tossed the recliner into the side door of the tool van,a 1959 Volkswagon bus,and Lance's wife,a very pregnant Judi,climbed in next and made herself comfortable.

     "Now you just take it nice and easy,stay behind the last bike,and don't go passing anybody, o.k.?" he said to Maria, the driver,his "Miss right now".She'd had her license for a year or so,and had even been on the highway once or twice already.Jack was only 10,but he knew what all the tools were for and what toolbox they were in,so he rode "shotgun" between Maria and Linnie.Annie got to sit on the toolbox that was tucked in behind the bench seat.I don't think there was a one of us over 20 years old.I sat on a milk crate facing Judi and looking out the back window,and oh man,was it ever hot in that van.

     It happened so fast.

          We were just north of Boston.

     Chief dropped out of formation and pulled us over to hand in his leather jacket."Gonna work on my tan" he joked,laughing in mock vanity as he shook back his head and ran his fingers through his long hair,now grey at the temples.

It wasn't very much later when "it" happened.

Chief was hit by a drunk driver.Hit by a drunk driver sounds so clean doesn't it? This guy dragged Chief for over three miles,playing "bumper tag" with the guard rails before pulling over to pass out,completely oblivious to what he had done,and to the blood all over his windshield.

     We were right behind,and all I heard was the women screaming up in front.I saw the look in Judi's eyes,and with her first scream,that baby girl shot right out.I caught her,wiped her off with my bandana,and wrapped her in Chief's leather jacket.

She never even cried.

The women still screamed.

     Maria stayed right behind,just like she was told,screaming the whole time,and for years,whenever she opened her mouth again,she screamed.

     Lance went from the hospitals nursery to it's morgue later that day to identify Chiefs body.Just about all that was left of him was some ground meat,his hair,and his Chosen Few colors.

     Chief wasn't one to like being cooped up,so the day of his burial,the guys slid his coffin onto the back of an El Camino,and left Sommerville for Medrord,where Lances family cemetary is.The family knew how close they both were and all agreed that Chief could "come on in".

This is an old,private cemetary,dating back to before 1700,and through time became very Catholic and quite Italian.(Capice?)

     So,in they all come,with Chief's Maria on the back of Lances bike,her hand on Chief's coffin the whole way,with about a dozen or so bikes flanking the whole thing.

     Now,this cemetary is a pretty place,well groomed,and,being June in the Boston area,also very green and vibrant.The custodians were having a hard enough time with a bunch of bikers being there and they about flipped when the truck carrying the tombstone showed up.

     Lance had the tombstone incised with a copy of Chiefs Harley right there on the top,and the custodians wanted no part of it.

When the driver got out to talk to the custodians,Lance slid into the truck and backed that thing up,between the gauntlet of motorcycles to the plot.Chiefs brothers lifted the stone off the back of the truck,and carried it to the place where it still sits to this day,just a few paces from where my own baby sleeps.

     Oh man,sorry,there I go,but now,what was I saying?

     Oh yeah,Lance had a memory patch made up and sewn onto the left sleeve of Chiefs leather,sure was touchy about it too.He wore that jacket almost all the time,I swear.

     About a decade or so later,on the anniversary of Chiefs birthday,Lance went into a bar,toasted Chief with a Bud,took off his leather and went into the Men's room.When he came out,the jacket was gone,poof,like smoke in the breeze,just that quick.When he got outside,it had started to snow,and he drove home without a jacket.

     He never stopped looking for it either.

     I sewed him another patch myself,and bought him another leather jacket to sew it on,but you and I both know it just wasn't the same.

     It must have been 5 or 6 years later,same date,same bar,same reason.Lance orders a Bud,and as he lifts it to his lips for that first sip,to his right,out of the corner of his eye,there's that patch,on the same jacket,worn by a total stranger.

Lance turns to him and says,"In memory of Chief,huh? Let me buy you a beer ,and we'll drink to this guy Chief.Tell me about him.",and the fool replies,"Not much to say about him really",but drinks to him anyway.Lance let him finish his beer,then slams him with one of his massive fists,which knocks him to the floor,puts a boot on his chest,and says "Chiefs name was Ralph Vitalie." then reaches down and with one powerful tug,rips that patch right off the sleeve,and says",You can keep the jacket,but you're not fit to wear this patch."

      Bear with me just a little while longer,I'm getting to the Karma part.

    More than a couple of years pass,and we're renting out rooms at our house.In walks this girl,dark hair,glasses,sort of chunky,to maybe move in.She's cool,so we tell her she can have a room.

     Moving day comes for her,and up the steps she comes,boxes in hand,and,as we look at her we can't help but notice she's wearing an old leather jacket.

Lance,stunned,recognizes it instantly,and says to her "Nice jacket,Toots".

She looked back and quite innocently replied "Someone gave me this,but it's way too big.Looks like it would fit you,ya want it?"

     Karma is a funny thing sometimes,huh?

     When Lance died,I washed and dressed him,colors and all,then put that leather jacket in his hand so when he got to the other side he could give Chief his leather back.

    Like I said ,Karma is a funny thing sometimes.

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