Fake Leopard-Skin Coats
The temperature was beginning to drop. Fall was ending and winter would soon be here. The time had come for mom to buy our coats and get ready for the harsh New York winter to set in. Being that we were seven children, mom couldn’t buy us all coats the same year, so she staggered the shopping into groups. This year it was my younger sister’s and my turn.
Saturday morning, our family shopping day, couldn’t come fast enough. I hardly slept a wink the night before. Getting something new to wear wasn’t an everyday occurrence. As a middle child, I usually got my older sisters’ hand-me-downs. But this time I would be getting a brand spanking new coat. We were going to Alexander’s in the city. It was a major event in my young life. My younger sister and I couldn’t contain our glee. We were up and ready before mom got up that morning.
Even though my mom told us that she was dressing as fast as she humanly could, it seemed as if time was standing still. I thought I was going to hyperventilate. “Come on, mom, come on” I muttered under my breath. I was worried that all the good coats would be taken by the time I got there. Finally, mom was ready and we proceeded to head out.
It was a long walk to the train station. I wished that my feet had wings to help me fly faster to my destination. The train ride was cold and smelly but I didn’t care. Not this time. I was getting a new coat. The train stopped and mom warned us that we needed to walk quickly. She didn’t have to tell me twice. I grabbed onto her hand and held on for dear life. Nothing was going to separate us today. We only had to walk 4 blocks from the train station. Our journey was just beginning.
I spotted the red Alexander’s store sign first. I’m not sure but I thought I heard a choir singing. This was going to be awesome. It was a good time to be alive. We pushed through the revolving door and we were inside. Racks of beautiful clothing spread out before us like soldiers in formation. The rainbow of colors and textures went on as far as the eye can see. But I didn’t see any coats. I worriedly looked at my mom. She smiled and said, “Patience, nena, they’re not on this floor”. I took a deep breath and steadied my heart. We were headed for the third floor.
We got off the escalators on the third floor. My sister and I stopped dead in our tracks. We saw them from a distance. Our mouths dropped to the floor. We were in awe. Coats of every color in the spectrum were displayed before our very eyes. There were brilliant blue fluffy coats with white lamb-fur collars. There were gorgeous red coats with shiny gold buttons. There were coats with the softest hoods that wrapped around you like a gentle hug. As they say, “So many coats, so little time”. My sister and I were running, running into the gentle sleeves of our favorite ones. I buried my face in the plush-ness of a luminous green coat that had a thick black furry collar. I was lost in the moment. So lost that I didn’t notice my mother was not with me. I quickly let go and called out to her.
She didn’t hear me. To my horror, mom was walking away from the beautiful coats. My sister and I looked at each other. We did not understand. We walked after her to find out what was going on. We stopped and looked incredulously ahead. Mom was walking towards the wrong coats. My heart sank as my eyes confirmed where she was headed.
I spotted the garish red signs before my sister did. It simply read, “Clearance”. Below the sign hung the coats mom was interested in. There they hung on plastic hangers, resembling carcasses of animals released from their traps.
Mom chose the fake leopard-skin coats for my sister and me. They were hideous. The beautiful coats seemed to glisten in the light. These were dull and lifeless. The beautiful ones had a soft quilted lining that was sure to keep me warm. These had a thin nylon layer that was cold against my skin. These fake leopard-skin coats had big plastic brown buttons resembling braided leather. As I ran my fingers along the buttons I could still remember the feel of the gold inlayed ones. My shoulders dropped in defeat. The look on my mom’s face told me that it would be best not to say anything. My sister and I stood behind my mother as she paid for the coats. The saleslady carelessly folded each coat and placed them side by side in the same bag. Funny how they both fit together in the same sack. Without looking at us, mom smiled as she took the bag from the saleslady and, with us in tow, silently walked out of the store.
Monday morning was bleak and cold. The weather wasn’t that great, either. I dreaded going to school. Of course I had blabbed to all my friends that I was getting a new coat. All my friends were waiting to see my treasure. I tried to fake an illness but my mother was hip to the idea. She wasn’t having it. We were going to school.
I reluctantly put on my coat. I grabbed my book bag and headed out the door. The cold sliced through my coat like a pizza cutter on a freshly baked pie. The tight knot in my stomach was matched by the tightness of the top plastic button at my neck. This hideous coat hung on my back like a dead emaciated leopard. I wished that he would come to life, ravage me and put me out of my misery. I spotted my friends before they saw me. I had thoughts of running into the park and hiding. But before I could make my move they spotted me. Their mouths dropped to their chins. My legs barely carried me to where they were. They waited for me. We looked at each other and walked to school in silence. We never spoke about the coats.
I endured the winter with my pet coat. Spring was in the air. Soon I would be able to discard the leopard. I couldn’t wait. I watched as my mom prepared to put away our winter clothing and bring out the warm weather attire.
Too bad that in my selfish want for something well beyond our means, I hadn’t been more aware of those around me. Particularly, I hadn’t been aware of my mom’s situation. Not until the day that I witnessed a beautiful sacrificial act. There was my mom walking to the trash receptacles with something in her arms. It looked like an old wool blanket. It was her coat, tattered and worn, being thrown into the garbage. If only I’d stopped to think about someone besides myself I would have noticed that mom had gone without so that my sister and I could have something new. The coats weren’t my first choice (they wouldn’t have been my second choice, quite frankly) but my mom’s first choice was for her children. And it broke my heart to know that I was so callous. I had let my pride get in the way of my mom doing the best that she could do.
I learned very early in life that pride is an ugly thing. It blinds you to the beautiful acts of kindness that are bestowed on you. Pride brings disappointment. It finds fault in places where there is no fault. It hinders relationships from blossoming. Pride keeps you, like a hamster on a spinning wheel, from moving forward. Even as a child, I recognized this trait in me and have tried to be less prideful.
When I grew older and got my first job I bought my mother the most beautiful coat I could afford. My sisters and brothers have followed suit. We make sure that mom never goes a season without having what she needs. It is the least we could do.
© Leticia Caroccio 2004