He bought it at the Sav-On Drugstore for $4.97.

It was an unassuming wool blanket--red tartan plaid with fringe on each end. When new, it was starchy and its colors vivid; but after nearly 20 years of service, the colors were faded and so threadbare in places you could see right through it. I thought the blanket itchy and hot, but Dad stubbornly defended its merits.

"This is no ordinary blanket," he would say.

Commonly known as a stadium blanket, we called it our "car blanket" because that's where it resided between outings and vacations. It lay folded neatly in the back of our '68 Chevy station wagon, ready and waiting to be called into service. Most of its use came as a picnic blanket, a groundcover over the rocks, sand, and pine needles of my childhood.

My father's blanket began its distinguished career shortly after he and my mother were married. They were driving along a wooded highway when they noticed smoke rising in the distance. What my parents assumed was a harmless campfire turned out to be a smoldering brushfire threatening a nearby trailer home. With no one around and no time to spare, they fought the small fire--just Dad, Mom, and the car blanket. After that, it was a little worse for the wear, but Dad just said the discolorations gave the blanket "character."

A few years later, Dad passed a blue sedan parked along the side of a city street. A few seconds down the road, he got the notion that something wasn't quite right with the scene, and he turned around to have a closer look. There, in the dim light of evening and within sight of the speeding cars, a woman was having a baby. Dad lent a helping hand, the use of his blanket, and a ride to the hospital. The couple was deeply grateful for the unsolicited help of a stranger.

For a while, the blanket returned to its familiar role. We watched fireworks on it and drive-in movies. It protected my father's backside during an unexpected roadside tire-change. Once, when a spring trip to the beach turned unseasonably chilly, I recall huddling beneath its protection with my sisters, grateful for Dad and his scratchy old blanket.

Several years later, my father was the first one at the scene of a serious accident. Instinctively, he stopped and approached the mangled car where a young woman was inside, trembling and bloody. He thought of his own five daughters as he wrapped the blanket around her and comforted her. The warmth of the wool helped prevent shock from setting in and kept her calm until the ambulance arrived.

The car blanket ended its remarkable sojourn with our family one brisk December morning. A homeless man, a "regular" outside Dad's office building, asked him for some spare change. Almost as an afterthought, my father went back to his car, got the blanket from its resting place, and presented it to the man. The last time my father saw the red plaid blanket was around his shoulders.

My mom bought a new car blanket soon after that, but it just wasn't the same. It was blue and soft; it had no stickers or threadbare patches, no grease stains or singed edges.

The old wool blanket had earned its place in our family mythology. It was, after all, no ordinary blanket.

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