Thursday, December 2, 2010

Two Coats

As the Christmas whirlwind begins to swallow me up, and as writing is left aside for the moment, I offer you this repost which, by his example, my swell pal Suldog assures me is all right. After all, we do tell our best stories more than once. - Cricket

We were just rich enough that we were not poor. By strict economy, my parents managed to keep us all clothed, sheltered and fed. The clothes may not have always been the exact ones we wanted. My mother often concocted meals based on whatever was left in the pantry. We sometimes wished the roof over our heads was a bit bigger. We did not live a life free from want. Still, we were mostly free from need.

Our neighborhood was safe, at least compared to the next one over. I learned to watch my back but I never slept in the tub. That counts. My mother seems to remember the whole experience as being worse than it was. I'm not sure why. To me, it was just ordinary. All my friends lived similar lives. There was rarely extra but there was usually enough. I look back on it without nostalgia or resentment. It was what it was. Ordinary.

Sometimes it is strange what we remember. I liked Christmas as most children do. Still, much of my memory is a pine-scented blur of trees and lights, punctuated by random moments of clarity. You might think I would remember going to see Santa, setting out milk and cookies, waking up to find that one longed-for present under the tree, but I don't. This all happened, I'm sure of that. I remember that it happened, I just don't remember doing it.

There were presents, of course. I had toys. I just don't remember specifically asking for and receiving any. There is one toy I remember Santa bringing. It was a glorious red, pedal-powered fire engine with wooden ladders on the sides, a pull-string bell, and a working light. Even though I had just turned three, I remember waking to find that. I didn't ask for it, though. Santa had chosen it for me all by himself, with wisdom and love.

No, the gifts I remember make an odd assortment. A puzzle given to me by my great-aunt that came in a can, not a box. A football helmet that was far less protective than I had hoped for the incredibly violent version of the game played in my neighborhood. Neatly wrapped packages of clothing from my aunt, who always hid candies and other treats in the folds.

I always felt a little guilty about the clothes. They were obviously chosen with care. The adults made such a fuss over them. I should have been more grateful, yet I was not. Christmas was about toys and sweets. It was a divinely revealed rule of childhood. Children do not want clothes for Christmas.


My mother is a sensitive soul. Whatever charity is in my heart comes largely from her. She has always given herself to those who need her most: the poor, the troubled, the dying. She is not well-suited for this work. She cares far too deeply. She makes their grief her own. As a boy, I could always tell by her eyes when one of her patients had died. If it were my choice, I would have her teaching kindergarten, surrounded by light, joy, and laughing children. It is not my choice, though. She is called to something else.

One morning, my mother called my sisters and me to the kitchen table. She had a proposal for us. I know Who inspired it, though I'm not sure how. She asked us if we would try something different that Christmas: if we would give our presents to a more needy child. She left us to think it over. Now, even at that age, we knew there would still be presents for us that year, just perhaps one less. After a short debate, we decided that would be all right.

My mother contacted a friend from nursing school to arrange it. Sister Julie said she would find three children like us and send their Christmas wishes. One day, three cards arrived. I remember mine quite clearly. On the front was a picture of the Nativity. Inside, Sister Julie wrote that she had found a boy my age who needed a present this year. His name was Julian.

He wanted a coat.

There were no further instructions. He didn't want a New England Patriots coat. He didn't want a bomber jacket or a pea coat. Just a coat. A winter coat. Size 8.

My own coat was gray-green wool with wooden toggles. I loved the toggles. My grandmother had known I would love the toggles when she bought it for me. She said so. The coat was not new, but it had been chosen for me with love, and it was warm. Winter in New England is cold. It didn't take long for me to realize that any child who wanted a winter coat for Christmas didn't really want it, he needed it. Children do not want clothes for Christmas.


I don't remember much else about that Christmas. My mother bought a suitable coat and let me give it my approval. The coat was wrapped and delivered. Christmas came and went in a blur of trees and lights. I'm sure there were presents, though I don't remember what they were. Perhaps I appreciated the clothes a little more that year, though I couldn't swear to that. Children do not want clothes for Christmas.

My coat seemed a bit warmer that winter, though. Each time I put it on, I thought of Julian, and hoped he liked his coat as much as I liked mine. I hoped he was warm. I hoped he would not want clothes next Christmas. I hoped that his life could be ordinary too.

I don't remember what presents I got that year, but I know the gift I received. Whatever charity is in my heart came to me from my mother, right then. That was the gift that mattered. That gift I remember. I still think of Julian whenever I pull my coat around me on a cold winter day. I hope he is warm. And I pray for a day when no children ever want clothes for Christmas.

Respectfully Yours,



lime said...

oh yes, i remember this and thank you for it, for the lovely telling, for the lesson learned, and as one who once was in julian's shoes and received the the blessing of a warm coat when it was needed.

Bossy Betty said...

Lovely post. Puts everything in perspective, doesn't it?

Ananda girl said...

You brought tears to my eyes again Cricket and a very important message... sometimes we do not realize the gifts we recieve, those that are life lasting and wise.

As for your mom recalling things as worse, I get that. As a mom, I often had to prepare what I felt was a meal that was lacking, or make a choice for what was needed vs what my child truly would have loved to have. God had given me these miraculous gifts... my children and I wanted to give them everything under the sun, yet could not. :-)

Hilary said...

This one is certainly worth the retelling (as most of yours are). Such a wonderful gift your mother gave you - especially by allowing you to make the choice. Thanks for re-sharing. It gives me a feeling of warmth.. like a grey-green woolen coat with toggles.

Suldog said...

Definitely one of your better tales, my swell pal. I've been blessed beyond reason during my life, and this one did me the service of reminding me of that. Thanks again.

Jeni said...

Such a beautiful message. And a wonderful way to teach the true meaning of giving at Christmas -and all the rest of the year too.

Anonymous said...

Since I missed it the first time, thank you for reposting it. A wonderful story and awesome writing. I wish I had read this when my kids were younger. They always chose tags from the giving tree at our church, but it's not the same as agreeing to potentially give up one of their own gifts. They're still pretty sweet kids, despite me, though, thank goodness!

Joanna Jenkins said...

I'm glad you reposted this so I could enjoy it. It's wonderful.
Congrats on your POTW from Hilary. It's very well deserved.
Cheers, jj

Lori said...

This is just such a beautiful heart warming post that I am almost speechless. Since I am a new reader I appreciate you reposting this. I feel very blessed to have read this tonight. Your mother sounds amazing and taught you well. Bless you.

Congratulations on POTW at Hilary's. Very much deserved on this honor.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful story!

Sueann said...

Such a beautiful memory of Christmas! Brought a tear to my eye as well!
I hope Julian loved his coat...though I am sure he did. He got what he had asked for. Your mom's heart is a blessing for all!
Congrats on your POTW!!

Unknown said...

so deserving of the POTW.

this was simply wonderful. really.

Linda at To Behold The Beauty said...

Oh my. This post touched my heart. The first part reminded me so much of my own childhood. I especially related to "We did not live a life free from want. Still, we were mostly free from need."

And the story of Julian is such a timely reminder that, no matter how dire our own circumstances, there are always those in circumstances even more dire.

I'm so glad you reposted this as I had not read it before. It's a keeper.

Congratulations on POTW.

Out on the prairie said...

There are always more Julians at thistime of year. In my family all clothing went to another family in our area.We thought we were poor until we met one family with 13 kids and how Christmas came a couple times of year when they got what we couldn't use.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you re-posted and glad that Hilary is sending us here to read.
I just returned from my son's elementary school, where there is a "giving tree" in the entrance with "ornaments" listing needs. Coats and shoes were among them. I brought an "ornament" home and now I will be thinking of this story while I am shopping on Friday.

steviewren said...

This is a story the needs telling and re-telling. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad you re-posted this. It should be an annual re-post because it is THAT GOOD!! In fact, I am going to add it to my Latest & Greatest page. It also fits very nicely into my weekly meme this week about gifts, so I welcome you to add it!

Kittie Howard said...

Cricket, your story is absolutely beautiful. Bless you. I'm misty-eyed.

My hub's from New Hampshire, graduated from Providence College. His last semester there, even with three jobs, he couldn't put the tuition together. So, he went to the dean to tell them he wouldn't be graduating that semester. The dean told him that someone had just paid his tuition in full for that semester. To this day we don't know who. But each year we donate what we can to a scholarship fund for a needy student. I'm not telling this story out of school. My hub is proud to tell the story as well.

Dianne said...

very touching post

thank you for your visit to my silly post :)

Pauline said...

Well deserved POTW - this was as heartwarming as Julian's coat :)

Sandra said...

A beautiful post, Cricket and well deserving of Hilary's POTW. Thank you for sharing it.

I wonder when Julian remembers Christmases of his childhood, if he might remember the warm coat he received one Christmas. I bet he does. I've said a prayer for him that he doesn't have to ask for clothes for Christmas any more, because adults shouldn't have to ask for clothes for Christmas either, just if they want to.

A story worth telling and hearing.

Unknown said...

Congrats on POTW Cricket! You made a little boy very happy and learned a valuable lesson to pass on to your own children.

CiCi said...

Things like a coat and the warmth it provided, thank goodness we have those memories, right? My mom has been in total denial of the childhood my brother and I endured. It makes my brother so angry that she will not see reality, but I am just sad for her that she has spent so many years in fantasy and not able to make a good life for herself. Your writing speaks to me and I am grateful for your sharing them in your blog.

Chris said...

Some poignant lines in there, Cricket. Particularly the one about how you don't remember what presents you got that year, but you do remember your "gift."

Outstanding. I can see why this piece made Sully's short list.