I found my grandfather’s overalls at the back of the closet. They had been rescued when we emptied his house after his death in 2015, used by my dad for a while – mostly in the garage – and then evicted when he received a new pair.
The cotton drill had been worn away from decades of work, there were oil stains on the knees, a white stain that I suspected was my grandmother’s work. They retained a distant smell of laundry, hot metal and cars.
A civil servant, Grandpa was a dapper man who loved to party: he wore cashmere ties, harlequin-print ties and vests on public holidays, and loose corduroys at home.
I have no recollection of him wearing those overalls, but I do remember we gardening together, which I guess was one of the jobs he did there.
Being allowed into the greenhouse was a privilege as a child; in this warm, green fugue, we put things together. I would marvel at his improbable dexterity, stepping over bags of compost and plant pots strewn on the ground in the mid-90s.
However, the overalls were too big to be of much use in the garden – I tripped on the hems, things fell out of the swag pockets. However, when I rediscovered them, I realized that I could modify them to fit me.
With the help of Esther wilson, a designer who makes tailor-made clothes, I had the overalls reduced to the right size. Esther kept the legs wide and the waist high, she moved the pockets and added some new ones. When I saw them again I realized that she had hand-sewn my initials on the pocket. Since then, I have been working there in the garden.
These overalls are a kind of holy grail after a long search for clothes to wear in the garden, which should be warm, strong and resistant to mud. I asked Esther to keep them big enough to work as the name suggests: over a waistcoat, over jeans, on top of everything. After gardening, I peel them off and hang them up, ready for the next session – with a lot less laundry.