Someone asked me recently if I ever have written short stories. I really laughed because up until three years ago, that was all I did write. Oops, that was a lie. I did write copy for brochures and advertising, newsletters, website copy and other business-related stuff. But lately, I’ve concentrated my efforts on my novels.
The reason the subject came up was I’m applying for a grant through the help of my publisher. It’s not a huge amount of money tied to the first prize, but it would be a good start down the recognition road. I thought I’d share my submission with all of you before I mail it off today. Let me know if you think it’s a winner. Better yet, send me your own story about unconditional love.
THE LITTLE RED COAT
Copyright 2012 Barbara Celeste McCloskey
I was officially separated from my husband by a court decree. The court commissioner gave me 72 hours to pack and move from the house I had loved for 20 years, and needless to say. I was paralyzed by the decision. Where would I begin? After all, what do you take to begin a new life?
After hours of procrastination, I decided to tackle something small. The front hall closet was perfect. As I pushed aside unworn and over-worn coats and jackets, I came upon a dust-covered plastic garment bag I had forgotten was in there. When I unzipped the bag, I discovered a long-lost friend—a little red wool coat I had worn for over 15 years.
Even though I had replaced the lining twice and sewed on the buttons more times than I wanted to count, I still kept the coat. I sat down in the rocking chair and cuddled it. And all of a sudden, I was 13 again, and memories of the day the coat and I met each other flooded back.
I was at the J. C. Penny Store with my mother shopping for a new winter coat. The sweet red frock hung like the last rose of summer between the brown tweeds and other drab winter dress coats. With its classic straight lines and large princess collar, it was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen. I tried it on and twirled in front of the three-way mirror to see how I looked at every angle. For the first time I recalled, I looked stunning and very grown up.
My mother commented, “It certainly is the best one we’ve found so far,” my mother said. “It fits you so well, and it makes you look so slim!” In my mother’s world that was a compliment.
I let my mother’s comment go. Over the summer I had lost 30 pounds and have finally gotten to the weight the charts said I should be. “It’s perfect! I love it.” I said with excitement.
Unfortunately neither of us checked the price tag before I tried it on. When I saw my mother’s face drop, I knew it was too expensive. $35. Even at age 13, I knew an extra $15 was a small fortune in 1965. Fifteen dollars equaled a day’s pay for my father who worked in a muffler factory. With sadness, I took the coat off, hung it back on the rack, and said, “We’ll find another one, Mom. Let’s go home.”
My mother put her arm around my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
“Me, too.” I said as I held back my tears. Neither of us said a word all the way home.
About three days later, my father came into my bedroom after he got home from work. “Come on, let’s go,” he said.
“Don’t ask questions. I want you to come with me.”
I followed him out to the car, and after we had been driving for a few minutes, he said, “Mom told me that the two of you have been winter coat shopping all summer.”
“Yeah. Last year’s coat just doesn’t fit any more.”
“She said you found a real pretty one the other day.”
“It was pretty, but too expensive, Daddy. We’re still looking.”
He turned into the J. C. Penny parking lot and said, “I want you to show it to me.”
“No buts. I want to see it.” He took my hand and led me toward the double glass doors in the front of the store. We walked up the stairs and marched to the back where the winter coats hung. My palms were sweaty and my heart pounded. What if it was gone?
As we turned down the aisle, the coat was in the same place I had left it. I wanted to think it was waiting for me to come back. I picked it off the rack and held it out for my father’s inspection.
“Put it on!” He ordered. “I can’t tell anything when it’s on the hanger.”
I wrapped the coat around my shoulders and slid my arms down the satin lining. I buttoned the three large buttons that looked like big raspberries and then turned around.
My father was smiling. “Your mother is right. She said that coat was made for you.” He had a faraway look. “You look gorgeous, sweetheart—you’re as beautiful as your mother was on our first date. I’ll never forget the red coat she wore that night, and you look just as wonderful.”
“But Daddy, the price.”
“Don’t worry about the money. Go and tell the clerk we’ll take it.”
I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him right there in the center aisle of the store. “Thank you, Daddy.” This time I let the tears come.
I never understood how my father came up with the extra money to buy me that coat. Years later, my mother told me he made up the shortfall with the money he set aside to play poker once a month with his volunteer firemen friends. That year, Daddy didn’t play for several months.
Knowing this fact made the red coat even more special. Every time I slipped it on, it was like my father was giving me a hug. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes as he watched me model the coat for him. Best of all, I’ll always remember his unselfish love for me.
But now, I cried into the softness of the red coat with its ripped lining and tatter sleeves before I gave it one last hug. As I placed it in the Goodwill donations, I realized the memory of my father’s unselfish gift so many years ago was something I didn’t have to pack. It was already safe within my heart.