Yesterday's Magazette

15 – My Christmas Coat

By Carrillee Collins Burke

You probably know about the Biblical story of Joseph’s coat of many colors and of Dolly Parton’s coat her momma made for her. However, let me tell you about my coat that was not of many colors, but a plain, soft tan and factory made.

My memory fades back to the 1960s when I was a little bit down and out and a whole lot sad at Christmas time. My brother, Davy, was in the Navy. He and his wife lived in New York and my baby daughter and I lived in Ohio. That particular Christmas both of us visited our parents and older brother, Jim, and family in West Virginia. We decided gifts were not to be a big thing, or a thing at all, being together was the gift. Nevertheless, Davy and I went to Charleston and reminisced about old times as we walked the streets. Then we ate a banana split at our favorite drugstore soda fountain and went shopping, hoping to find something special for our parents.

We were surprised to discover that the Newberry Five and Dime store, one of the oldest stores in town, was going out of business. I had a connection with the store. I had purchased my first tube of lipstick and Evening In Paris perfume at Newberrys. And one Easter season I worked there for a week after school writing names on chocolate eggs. As we stood peeking in the window I remembered the ancient dark wood plank floors that had an oily odor and squeaked when walked upon. The store not only carried dime store items now but also an assortment of clothing. They did not sell clothing items when I was young. This was a recent thing. The store was nearly empty of people and merchandise. And soon it would be gone. Davy pulled me toward the door. “Let’s go and see what they have.”

On a coat rack, all by itself, hung a tan, rabbit, fur-like, wraparound coat with a hood that laid back over the shoulders. It had deep pockets on both sides. A feature I liked. To this day I don’t know the man-made material it was created from but it was beautiful. I loved it at first sight. I ran my fingers over it and finally took it from the hanger and shoved my arms through the sleeves.

“I love this coat!” I told Davy.

“It’s only seventeen dollars. Buy it,” he said. “It fits and you look great in it. So buy it.”

“I can’t buy anything right now.” I said. “I’m taking pennies from Cindy’s piggy bank to buy her milk, and paying for a divorce. Forget it.” I slowly placed the shoulders of the coat over the wood hanger and hung it back on the rack. “Let’s go,” I said in a disappointed loud voice and headed for the door.

Davy stopped and rummaged through his pockets. “I’ve lost my billfold,” he said. “I think I might have left it at the drug store.”

“My feet are killing me. Do you mind if I go on to the car and wait for you?” I asked. His car was parked only a few steps away. He agreed and gave me the keys. I shuffled on to the car and waited impatiently for him.

When he returned he was carrying a package. He said the waitress at the soda fountain had found his billfold on the counter by the cash register after we left. He handed me the package.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Open it now or keep it for Christmas,” he said. I held it a moment and as usual I could not conquer my curiosity and tore the bright colored Christmas wrapping off the box and opened it. “Oh my God,” I whispered. “It’s the coat. Thank you so much. I’ll pay you back.”

“No you won’t,” Davy said. “It’s a gift.

That coat has entered into my thoughts many, many times over the years. Davy was in the Navy. Not drawing a big paycheck and he had a wife to support. It was not the best of times and he bought me a coat that I adored. I thanked him in person only once that I can remember, but in my thoughts, numerous times. It was such a nice thing he did for me, especially at a time when my heart was sad and lonely.

I wore that coat through three winters and received compliments because it was so beautiful and expensive-looking. I wore it with black gloves and black leather high heel boots with such pride. It made me feel special. Then one day coming home from work, I stepped off the city bus near a dog that seemed to be waiting just for me. It growled then lunged at my coat as if the coat were a furry rabbit. It didn’t let go until it had torn a small hunk from the front. I ran the half block home with tears streaming down my face.

However that wasn’t the last of my coat. Later, I cut it into large squares, sewed them together, stuffed them, and made several soft pillows for my sofa. One even became a bed for my cat. That coat was truly a gift that kept on giving.

Vol. 37 No. 4 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Winter- 2010/11

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