A Tale Of Two Coats
By Phyllis Ewing
My parents divorced when I was eight years old. In those days it was unusual for a woman to stand her ground and step out on her own, especially with a child to support. Women were entering the work place in force and my mother became one of them. We left my father just before Christmas, 1953. I finished the school year in Fort Worth and that summer the two of us took a Continental Trailways bus to Sacramento to visit my grandmother.
Texas summers are incredibly hot, so we packed accordingly. We were fine until my grandmother decided on a side trip to San Francisco. These two Texans thought we had just stepped into a walk-in-freezer. My mom immediately started shopping for coats. I remember the coat she bought for herself was short and made of rust-colored cloth.
My grandmother offered to keep me in California for a year so my mom could organize her new life before bringing me home. While getting herself settled, she met her soon-to-become second husband. My stepfather was a man who knew how to spend money and my mom knew how to manage it. In the years to come her short, rust-colored cloth coat began to show signs of real wear. I could see it, but she never complained, as her family always came first.
By the time I was 13, I decided I wanted money of my own and she helped me find a Saturday house cleaning job. I earned $3.00 a week and completely supported all my girlish needs. At the end of my 13th year, I decided that my mom needed a new coat. There was a family-owned and operated dress shop that offered layaway. They kindly and patiently helped me buy mom a leather coat.
Every Saturday, she would drive me to the bus which would take me to my house cleaning job. After work she would pick me up and take me directly to the dress shop where I made my $3.00 payment and collected Green Stamps, which I obediently handed over to her. She knew I was buying something for her, but thought it might be a pantsuit. I said nothing.
On Christmas Eve we opened our gifts. To her complete surprise she saw the most beautiful cream colored leather coat she had ever seen. She hugged it and cried. No one, but her daughter, had noticed that her short, rust-colored cloth coat was slowly wearing away. She wore that leather coat for many, many years until the cream coloring started to wear off and signs of the dark leather beneath shown through.
The next year was the year of the mouton fur coat. All my friends and probably every girl in school had one. I begged for one, but there simply was no extra money for such an extravagance.
That Christmas my gift under the tree was a small box. Whatever was in that box was heavy and when handled, slid from side to side and end to end. My parents made me wait until all the gifts were opened before I was allowed to open my “mystery box.” When opened, I was puzzled to see a used book in a Christmas card box. My face dropped. My stepfather went into their bedroom. Mom followed and then called me to come to them. It was the most beautiful mouton fur coat I had ever seen. They laid it out on the bed and I flew from the bedroom door onto the bed, wrapped myself around that lovely, silvery, charcoal grey coat and cried. I finally had a mouton fur coat! The two coats were given from the heart with love and sacrifice and for different reasons. She had done the same thing I had: layaway.