The coat hung in my mother’s closet for decades. She finally gave it to me one day, not because she thought I needed warmth but because she was downsizing.
The coat was camel-color, with a wide, unmistakable 1970s-style collar, leather covered brown buttons and oversized exterior pockets with faux flaps. The goldenrod lining had started to deteriorate underneath the armpits but the coat was otherwise intact. It was in near perfect condition.
I was walking to the fine dining restaurant at a brisk pace while wearing my mother’s coat. I hated my waitressing job and I was deeply mourning the loss of my dad, who had died from cancer the summer before. I never took the time off work to properly mourn his death; and dealing with customers on a daily basis ground me down with shouting where was their overpriced trout amandine and scotch on the rocks.
My hands were shoved deep into my wool pockets and my small, black thrift store purse dangled from my wrist. I was often in a bad mood when I walked to work and was always in attack mode, ready to stand my ground against drunken French Quarter tourists. It was broad daylight on a street I had walked countless times. But I found the day drinkers even more obnoxious than the night owls.
He came at me from the opposite direction, his face and body barely registering. He tried to grab my purse but I caught him before he could and a tug-o-war ensued. “Help,” I screamed, over and over. I looked over his shoulder, searching for anyone who might rush to my aid. There was no one, so I screamed louder and fought harder. I made eye contact with him, as if to force him to consider that I was human, just like him.
“Bitch, ” he said.
He finally let go.
The whole incident cost me about sixty seconds of my time. I was frightened, but I was also angry. He didn’t get my purse, but he did rip the pocket clean off my mother’s coat. It dangled in space, the thirty year old threads didn’t have as much fight in them as twenty-one year old me.
I didn’t tell my mother about the incident until almost fifteen years later. I didn’t want to hear “I told you so” at the time of the incident. I didn’t want her to ask why I was walking alone in the French Quarter. I didn’t want to explain that I did it every day out of necessity and stubbornness. Why should I be required to not walk alone? My guy coworkers did it all the time. I didn’t allow fear to hold me back from anything I wanted to do, but I didn’t mention the incident to her out of fear of what she might say about the coat.
I shouldn’t have worried. She didn’t want the coat anymore and once she got rid of things she pushed them out her house and out of her mind.
I had the coat repaired immediately after the attempted robbery, but not because I thought my mother would find out. I truly enjoyed wearing it and I needed something stylish and warm.
“This is a beautiful coat. It’s so well made.” The seamstress inspected the damage.
“I know. It was my mother’s.”
“You don’t see work of this quality anymore,” she said.
The sturdy leather buttons started falling off not long after I had the pocket repaired. I replaced them with inexpensive plastic ones, the only thing I could afford. I sewed them on myself, forcing the needle through layers of wool and backing and memories of my dad.
I thought about how my parents had first started to date when my mom wore the coat. My needle was to flimsy to push through the thick layers, but that didn’t stop me from jamming it through until my fingers ached.
Eventually the plastic buttons popped off as well as a result of my shoddy handiwork, then the other pocket ripped from age. Oh well, I thought. The coat didn’t fit anymore but I didn’t have the heart to get rid of it. I stored it in the closet for years, until one day it fit again.
When I pulled the coat back out, I forgot that it still had the original matching scarf. The tailoring was superb but the wool wasn’t as sumptuous as I remembered. The fabric was stiff, maybe from age. Or maybe it was always just a stiff coat; it was scratchy, clearly a coat you would find at a good ol’ suburban department store. But I planned on having it repaired now that I could fit into it again. What made it so special, aside from belonging to my mother, was that even though it was once a common department store find, the passing of time made the coat a unique vintage find.
Three years ago, I finally got the courage to ask my mother if she remembered the last time she wore the coat. I told her I still had it. She seemed surprised but also not sentimental about it at all.
“Did I ever tell you about the time someone tried to rob me while I was wearing it?”
“Well, I fought him and won.” I explained how he ripped the coat and I had it repaired. I told her how I had replaced all the buttons but they fell off, and how I planned on having the buttons professionally replaced and the pocket mended once more.
“It’s probably not even worth the cost,” she said.
She was right, but I still wanted to have it fixed. I wanted to be able to wear it that winter.
“Do you remember the last time you wore it?”
Mom vaguely recalled wearing it in high school but she couldn’t picture it in her head. She did remember another coat, one Dad bought her shortly after they got married. I also remembered it. It was a mauve, floor length pigskin with a plush faux fur collar, the type of thing that looked more luxurious than it actually was and was very 1970s as well. As the trends changed she grew tired of that coat taking up closet space so she got rid of that one too.
But she did not remember when she wore my coat.