In the fall of 1973 I needed a suit. We were on our way to Russia, and I heard you dressed up for the Bolshoi Ballet.
I had seen a sign near my office, “J&T Tailors, One Flight Up,” and I decided to climb the stairs to the shop. There were the proprietors, Joe and Tony, and I saw that they had quite a selection of men’s clothing. I told them I was going to Russia and needed a nice suit. With Tony’s help, I picked one out, and Tony, with chalk in hand and pins between his teeth, made the measurements.
I returned a week later to pick up the altered suit. While I tried it on, Tony told me that he was from a village in Italy called San Sossio Baronia, where he became a tailor by trade. His English wasn’t great, but his personal warmth more than made up for his lack of fluency. I looked at a certificate on the wall, written in Italian, and learned that his full name was Antonio Natola.
From that year to this July 3, a span of forty-three years, Tony was “my tailor.” He also became my friend. I bought suits, jackets, slacks and coats from him, and when my sons were old enough, I took them to the shop. Joe and Tony moved a few times, but somehow they were always close to where I worked. Sometimes I would drop in just to chat. If too long went by, I would get a call. “It’s Tony, Tony the Tailor. How come I no see you?”
Over the years we shared quite a bit. We both had two sons and a daughter, and we both became widowers in the 1980s. Our friendship got stronger.
Joe decided to retire, and a few years later Tony followed suit, so to speak, but not for long. He missed his customers, he told me, so he took a corner in a shop called “Firenze” and continued as before, though now mostly from catalogues. When my grandson graduated from high school a year ago, I took him to see Tony, who knew just what jacket and slacks were right for him to take to college. As we left, Tony told Jacob to pick out a tie, “my gift to you.”
This spring, my lawyer son turned 50, and I made a date to take him in to see Tony. When we got there, Tony gave me a hug, as always, and they then picked out a beautiful blue suit. Tony did the measurements.
A week or so later, I got a call from Theresa, owner of the shop, and I went over to pick up the suit. “Tony’s in the hospital,” she told me. “He’s very sick.”
I then spoke several times with Tony’s daughter, Anna, and she wasn’t optimistic. In late June she called, and I knew what I needed to do. I hung up, went to my car, and drove to the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts. Anna was there and so was Lena, Tony’s daughter-in law.
Despite the oxygen tube and other paraphernalia signifying serious illness, Tony gave me a big smile and extended his hand, which I held throughout the visit. We had a wonderful conversation, reflecting on our long friendship. Anna and Lena looked on, taking it all in. He told me he loved me, and I told him I loved him.
As I was getting ready to leave, knowing this would likely be our last time together, I asked a question. “Tony, what color was the suit you sold me before I went to Russia?”
His eyes twinkled. “Beige,” he said.