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Food for Thought

That spring thing

There was at least one constant every spring while I was growing up– a new spring coat or jacket– count on it. While we very often wore the same warm winter coat for two or three years running, the spring coats were always new, light-weight, pastel in color, and inexpensive.
That last factor, the cost (often well under ten dollars), was probably the reason the coats never survived more than one season, though the fact that they were usually lost before Memorial Day might have had something to do with it, too. Starting off for school on a cool April morning usually called for a jacket or sweater at the very least. That soft, cuddly spring coat felt just right on such mornings. Only on rainy days would Dad wait around to give us a lift as far as downtown before he headed off to work. Otherwise, we walked everywhere. By noon when we headed home for lunch (called dinner, the biggest meal of the day at our house) the sun would have warmed things enough that the coat was unnecessary and was usually either forgotten on a hook in the hallway at school, or, if we were lucky, left at home after the noon meal.
As I look back at the memory of losing my spring coat repeatedly, I begin to understand that that fact may have had something to do with the reason for the spring coats in the first place. While our mother wasn’t averse to taking advantage of a sale or a good quality hand-me-down, she made sure we had heavy, warm woolen coats every winter. Coats with big pockets to hold mittens, headscarves, ear-muffs and the bulky billfolds girls carried then; extra warm zip-out linings for really cold weather; big collars to turn up against winter gales; and long enough to protect the bare legs we insisted were not cold (though usually chapped.) The winter coats were sent off to the dry-cleaners every spring where they were cleaned and stored until the next fall. Mother wasn’t taking any chances on our leaving our winter coats behind one day when the weather turned warm and we decided we no longer needed them, or simply forgot we’d worn them in the first place.
Aside from those hooks in the hallway at school, there were a number of other places where the spring coats were likely to be abandoned. There were few acceptable reasons for going out on a school night when I was a teenager. About the only destination that would be condoned without an argument and considerable advance campaigning was choir practice. We all joined the church choir at one time or another simply to be allowed to get out of the house after supper on Thursday evenings. Fortunately, none of the choir directors insisted on auditions, because not one of us had much of a singing voice even though we’d had lessons on various instruments and could at least read music. It was easy to forget the spring coat when that distractingly nice-looking boy who always came to choir practice with his parents borrowed their car and gave me a ride home while they lingered, visiting with their friends for a few minutes after practice.
We might need the spring coat to walk home from a movie on a chilly Friday or Saturday night movie– or even a Sunday afternoon matinee. My spring coat was left at my best friend Barb’s house on more than one occasion when I’d stopped there for a half-hour or so on our way home from school. Since I lived only two blocks away, I usually didn’t miss the coat on my short dash homeward. Barb usually called me right away to tell me I’d left my coat and, if it was too close to suppertime for me to retrieve it, I’d promise to stop by after school for it the next day.
The librarian, Mrs. May, knew it was my coat when I left it hanging in the entrance hall of the library where there were mats for winter boots and shelves to hold schoolbooks and packages. Bringing parcels into the library was frowned on, though I never understood the reasoning. Who would bother to smuggle out a book when they could simply take it to the desk and check it out? On those late spring afternoons when the sun shone warmly, I would likely be carrying my coat rather than wearing it when I stopped there after school. Leaving with my arms loaded with library books and my mind busy with all the delights to be found within those worn covers, I was much too preoccupied to remember my coat. Mrs. May never phoned to tell my mother where I’d left my coat. She knew I’d be back in just a few days. My coat would still be right where I’d left it. And there’d be a funny, poked-out place in back, just under the collar, to show that it had been hanging on that hook the whole time.