On our honeymoon, I wore a rich turquoise colored coat. It was lovely. Women wore more elegant clothes then. It was the mid-fifties, and the women we admired were Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kenned. We wore gloves and hats and very high heels. In the movies, Doris Day wore outfits designed by Edith Head… elegance in every detail. As a novice schoolteacher, I wore merry widow corsets and heels – even on yard duty! What was I thinking?
Mark was born in mid September of 1957, and my birthday was a couple of weeks later. I needed a coat. Bill knew that, and my birthday gift was a soft grey “swing” coat. I loved it. There were nine gores in the back, so I could pretend I was Grace Kelly, and sweep into a turn. My goodness, it was so graceful.
That was the year that I played the part of Mary in the Christmas pageant. Mark was 3 months old, and would be the Holy Child. I rode a real donkey from G Street to the Tulare High School auditorium. The local police had to get permission to stop traffic on Highway 99 for the procession. Bill brought Mark in through the stage door and his little arms and feet moved at just the right times as I sang a lullaby. I could hear the collective intake of breath as the audience realized that baby Jesus was a real baby!
Our director was a vital, artistic woman named Arlene Hargis. She was very talented; ‘did lovely china painting – fired her own ceramics- rock hounded – compiled her family history – grew flowers and herbs – sold insurance – and had raised a family alone. By the time I knew her, she had been widowed three times, and was supporting herself.
Our church had a very active drama department, and Arlene was the master director. The stage had been well set up and spotlighted for this Christmas story, – it was a great success! We drove back to the church to change out of costume, and I couldn’t find my coat. There was more gear being carried in, so I just figured I’d pick it up on Sunday. Well, it wasn’t there, and since school was out for Christmas vacation, I couldn’t look there. When vacation was over, I looked everywhere in the rooms adjacent to the stage – I checked the lost and found – Nope!
It made me uneasy to try to explain it to Bill – he’d feel like I didn’t appreciate his thoughtfulness. And, on the Lance Corporal salary of a young Marine, he’d spent a hunk of money! I confided in my mother, and she had a great idea! She would order a new coat – same color, and buy it for me. The only one we could find was a grey coat, yes; but it had no style! None of the gores to make it swing – give it flair! It just hung there.
In the light of current advice (from the Oprah show), I did the wrong thing when I didn’t tell Bill – but at the time… So, I wore the boring coat. And, gradually the styles changed.
We moved from Tulare to North Carolina – to Hawaii – to New Jersey – then back to Lindsay. Bill would be overseas for 13 months. The children and I went to the Lindsay Church. Once in a while, we attended special events in my home church in Tulare. It was one of those special functions, and the ladies had filled the social hall with colorful tables. I felt a little self conscious, ‘cause the people I’d grown up with weren’t there… Well, a few of them were, – there was Mrs. Shirk and Mrs. Brott. And… there was a friendly short woman – wearing my coat!
It had been shortened of course, but it was unmistakable – Arlene Hargis in “my” coat! It took my breath away! I backed quietly out of the room, and didn’t tell anybody! Who could I tell anyway? Bill was overseas, my mother had died, and Mark and Joy wouldn’t know what I was talking about!
In retrospect, I realize that my coat probably languished in some back room for years, and that it was perfectly natural for Arlene to make use of it. After all, I had just received it – probably hadn’t worn it to church before, so how would she know who it belonged to? Besides, Bill and I were transferred away soon after that, and had been gone for ten years.
After a little time, I didn’t even think about that coat. I’m so glad I didn’t just shout out what was in my head: “Hey – that’s mine!”
– Dorothy Richmond, aka Grandma DJ, has been telling the stories of her Lindsay/Strathmore relatives and tales of life in the 1930s for years. We wanted to share some wonderful stories with our readers.
– This column is not a new article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.