The Coat

– By Dorothy Clinton –

“Life is strange”, she said to herself. She used to have a good memory, now she was uncertain of it. She was uncertain of a lot of things, there were times when she was not sure of who she was herself. Then she smiled and thought of the coat.

Times were bad in the thirties when she was a small child in Tipperary town. She remembered her mother talking to a friend and saying; “In times of necessity you have to buy well, you cannot afford to make mistakes”. Her father was sitting by the fire; he smiled to himself and didn’t pretend to hear. He worked in a bank where there was great prestige but very little money attached to it. When he entered the banking service first at 18 years his father bought him a good suit, an overcoat and put a few bob in his pocket. Then he said “Always remember, a bank will hand you an umbrella when the sun is shining and whip it away at the first drop of rain.”

The next day, Mother’s friend drove her to Clonmel and they saw it in the window. “Oh” said Mother. It was a long teddy bear coat with a big snugly collar and brown leather belt. Mother put it on in the fitting room; she looked so elegant in it. Father didn’t smile at all when he saw it and heard the price-it cost all of £8 and this was January 1932 at Sale Time. After a while father relented and said, “We will economise” Mother wasn’t too sure of what was in store. The teddy bear coat earned its keep for many years and went into retirement in 1938. It emerged again during the “Emergency” or Second World War, when clothes were rationed. Mother saw a notice in the papers saying “Coats Remodelled- £1.10s – “supply own buttons and thread”. Mother took the coat out of moth balls and headed for town. The coat returned edge to edge with gathered set-in sleeves and a mandarin collar-just the sort of thing for the “Emergency” a very genteel and economical looking garment. When the War ended the coat retired again.

One day several years later the little girl, now grown up, was looking for something in the spare room wardrobe when she came across the coat. She tried it on. It was just the thing to wear on the bike cycling to work. She asked her mother if she could have it. She would wear it with three-quarter length fur boots she had bought in Cleary’s and the fur hat she had bought in the Oxfam shop. Privately she would call herself Laura and imagine she was driving to work in a horse drawn sleigh, or maybe she might be a Sonia, or a Tanya.

The coat had a great few winters. Sometimes “the Gods” at the Gaiety, now and then the Abbey and constantly the Savoy cinema. It went to Rugby matches and the tennis hops in winter, it was coming into its own. Eventually the bicycle saddle began to put a horrible shape on the back and the pile was wearing thin, its life was drawing to an end. However it was put aside carefully, it had such sentimental value it could not be disposed of.

Time was moving on, Laura or Sonia or Tanya was no longer Laura, Sonia or Tanya, but plain Mary. The bicycle had been put away, she was married now living in the country with two small children. Money was scarce. She thought of the old coat and took out her sewing machine. A few days later her three-year- old daughter was wearing a tiny little teddy bear duffel coat with leather toggles.

The light was beginning to fade as Mary got up stiffly from her chair, her glasses had fallen off and her eyes were full of dreaming. “I know who I am” she said.

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