People's expressions change when you tell them you are clothing shopping for a dead man.
At first, they think you're joking, then they feel sorry for you.
Most clerks I encountered in my quest said they couldn't help me.
My uncle, for whom I shopped, wore an unconventionally large size, a category one clerk defined as "big and tall."
While a search of the local Yellow Pages produced a handful of stores claiming to carry such sizes, I could not travel as far as some stores required and still deliver the items to the memorial home in time for the wake.
Helpful clerks sent me hither and dither, from mall to mall, all in vain. One clerk said K-Mart certainly carried such sizes. The K-Mart clerk directed me to a downtown shop - I discovered had ceased business months earlier.
Desperate, I turned to the Secaucus Syms, a conglomerate that had so many racks I thought must have my uncle's size, if not his customary style.
The door clerk assured me the store did and send me to a fitter near the rear, a small man so neatly groom he could have put the memorial home attendants to shape, let alone me in my t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.
At first the fitter frowned, repeating my request for big and tall, saying a man as fit as I was needed no size nearly so extreme.
"It's not for me," I said. "It's for my uncle. I need something to bury him in."
No clerk ever looked so dignified at that fitter did, swelling up with a professional pride rarely seen in days such as these.
He did not ask if my uncle was a good or bad man.
He seemed to sense from my dedication to duty my uncle's worth, how much of a father Uncle Frank had been to me, and how I would not let him down even in death.
That fitter could not have known of the special moments in our lives, stranded at the center of Greenwood Lake with a foiled boat engine or trapped together in a mountain cabin during the worst snow storm of the century.
That fitter did not know of our weekly trips to a Philadelphia Hospital we hoped would save Uncle Frank's life, cancer bringing the big man to his knees when little else in life could.
My duty became that fitter's duty as we weaved through the miles of racks to complete this last act, performing a ritual of death we two alone shared, seeking clothing Frank would wear once but which would need to last him an eternity.