After my father passed away, as my sister and I were cleaning out his closet at the nursing home, we found his wooden Mi-Tie rack, still full of ties, and wondered what to do with it.
I could imagine my mother buying this tie rack for my father—it was probably a 10th anniversary present, the perfect thing as he worked his way into middle management. She probably found it at Brookstone, or Sharper Image. He was an engineer and appreciated gadgets, and she found him impossible to buy for, so a wooden tie rack with tiny gold hangers was perfect.
Even at the end of his life, the rack was still full of ties. There were striped Van Heusens from Macy’s; ties from Wallachs (remember Wallachs?); a red paisley Liberty of London; some Christian Dior. As I ran my fingers through the ties, I could picture him circling them neatly around his neck, all those days at Fairchild Semiconductor, New Hampshire Ball Bearing, Pneumo Precision.
He probably had one of these ties on his last day of work, when he was a purchasing manager at Burndy and was encouraged to retire at 63.
Of his collection, my favorites are the Endangered Species ties—one with a menacing-looking crocodile—why would one have a crocodile on his tie? Probably another gift from my mother, to celebrate that trip they took to Australia.
So what would do with all of these ties?
“Do the boys need any ties?” I asked my sister that day, referring to my nephews, who were 17 and 19.
“No,” she said. “I think they’re pretty good.”
“Hmmm,” I said. “Well, I can give this to D. I’ll see if he wants them. He only has maybe two ties for school.”
My son D. has to dress up every Wednesday in a school blazer and tie (love Catholic school!), and I’ve only bought him a tie or two a year. So even as a senior, it’s slim pickins, especially because some of them have come to a terrible end crumpled up in the bottom of his locker. D. certainly doesn’t own a tie rack. I had no idea whether he would want them or not, but it was worth a shot.
When I got home later that night, I said, “Hey, D., do you have any interest in this?” and I held up the tie rack for him to see. “It was Bapop’s.”
“Sure!” he said, enthusiastically, nodding his head.
“Really?” I was surprised.
D. is a guy whose essential uniform is Adidas sweats and Dri-fit Nike shirts—that is, when he isn’t wearing his required polo and khakis or blazer on Wednesdays for school.
“You might want to get rid of some of them,” I said, as he flipped through all of the ties. “Some of them are kinda old.”
“Nah, I like them,” he insisted. He found one of two of his own ties and added them to a few empty hangers.
“Do you want to put this downstairs in your closet?” I asked. D. doesn’t have a closet in his room, so all of his school clothes are in my office.
“No, I’ll keep it here in my room,” he said.
For another six months, the tie rack hung on his doorknob. I’m not sure why he liked having it there, but he said he just liked looking at them. After about six months, I moved it to his closet.
As I looked at the tie rack every week, I always thought of my dad—he and Jack Daniels. Once, my father saw a commercial for Tennessee Whiskey on television, and the commercial showed men hard at work in a factory. But the men weren’t just in an office, they were working over machines, their ties getting eerily close to the moving parts. My father was a manufacturing engineer—he would have none of that. So he wrote a letter to the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, pointing out that their commercials depicted very unsafe manufacturing practices and they should take the commercials off the air.
My father actually received a response back—and not only did he get a letter acknowledging his very reasonable and excellent point, but they also made him a Tennessee Squire. This association was created to honor and recognize the company’s most loyal and responsible consumers. Although my dad was not a big whiskey drinker, I suppose he might have saved them a lawsuit. For years to come, Dad received humorous letters periodically from the company, telling him about the crazy activities on his plot of land in Tennessee.
My sister still has his scrapbook with all the letters. Today, if you’re a Tennessee Squire, you can log into a special section on their web site.
I’m thinking once D. turns 21, I’ll ask if he can join in. He is now the proud owner of that tie collection, after all.
P.S. There’s one tie that I hope D. always keeps, the one homemade one in the collection. A navy blue Laura Ashley-like print, with tiny pink flowers. It’s the one my mother made for my dad to wear at my wedding. It matches the four bridesmaid dresses she made and the groomsmen’s ties. That was 20 years ago this spring. The tie is narrow—so it’s coming back in style, right?