by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
December 15, 2005
THE MINK COAT
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It must have been more than 40 years ago when my slim and elegant mother, Rose Kagan, bought a girdle.
Into this unusual - for her - garment she tucked $2,000 in cash. Then she took the subway into the city to meet an old friend of the family, a furrier named Kelly Kalish. She came home wearing a glossy, stylish, full-length mink coat.
It was a time when my father was doing well in his Brooklyn Army & Navy store, when many middle-class husbands - men who had survived the Depression and World War II, and now found themselves with a little success on their hands - bought mink coats for their wives. If they weren't doing that well, they bought mink jackets or mink stoles.
My mother wore that coat proudly for 10 years. Then my father retired and they moved to Florida.
The coat stayed up north, where it inexplicably ended up in a plastic cleaner's bag in my closet. It never fit me, but I kept it, planning at some point to turn it into a couch blanket. But you know how projects like that go... down comforters came into my life and the coat hung in the closet, along with a group of colorful native Panamanian and Bolivian dresses that I had collected when I lived in those countries, and which I've never dared to wear in the United States.
That would have been the end of the story, except that my mother, now 88, agreed to come north for Thanksgiving.
She's been lonely since her second husband, Harold Filler, died over a year ago, and I didn't want her to be alone for the holiday. She hadn't seen winter in 35 years, so it took time to convince her to face the slightly frozen north. I say slightly because until the day before she arrived, we were enjoying the mildest of autumns. Winter waited for my mother to begin.
My not-so-secret motivation in encouraging Mom to come north in winter was to get her comfortable with the idea of moving, at some future point, closer to me.
I met her at the airport with a down coat, a warm wool hat and suede lined gloves. Still she gasped when the cold air hit us outside the terminal. The car was warm, of course, and Randy and I heated our house to what we considered Amazonian hothouse levels. But Mom was still cold.
Cold. Cold. Cold. And at 88, frail. What could we do to keep her warm? When it was time to drive to Randy's family for Thanksgiving dinner, I remembered about the mink. She was shocked to learn that I still had it.
I pulled it out of the closet, unwrapped the plastic, and there it was, still elegant and glossy after all these years. When she put it on she seemed to glow. It was heavy and a little dusty, too. But it still looked wonderful on her.
She was abashed and embarrassed at the coat's luxuriousness, but she was also cold enough to wear it for the rest of the week.
Naturally, the coat brought back a lot of memories. In the car she stroked it and remembered buying the girdle. She remembered how my father had surprised her when he wanted to retire and move to Florida, and how worried she had been that he wouldn't know what to do with himself after spending 12 hours a day, six days a week, for 35 years, in the store. And how he had surprised her even more by finding friends, joining clubs, and having a wonderful and active retirement. And how he had always said that Mom fell "into a pot of gold," because the retirement community had an active theater group, and Mom became their playwright, choreographer, director and star.
She stroked the coat and remembered my father dying in the house in Florida, and then, a few months later, her mother dying in a nearby nursing home. And then, a few months after that, my younger brother dying of cancer in Woodstock, N.Y. at the age of 47.
She stroked it and remembered coming back to Florida from my brother's funeral, and how she had started to spend time with Harold, who courted her. I gave away the bride in the same room where my father had died, and Mom and I were both crying when we walked down the aisle, because Pop was no longer there.
She stroked the coat as she remembered the good life she had had with Harold for 10 years, and then him dying in the same spot, in the same room, where my father had died.
She stroked the coat and said wistfully, "So many memories."
It seemed to do nothing but snow while Mom was here, and the mink coat saved the day. Her worst fear - of driving in a snowstorm - well, we did that twice.
The day she left, we gently put the coat back in its plastic bag and rehung it in my closet.
The conversation has been opened. Mom is willing to consider renting an apartment on Main Street and spending the warmer months in Brattleboro. She is not yet ready to sell her house in Florida and leave her many friends and her theater work, but she is starting to think about it. She knows now that she has family here - Randy's family, my friends - who love her and will take care of her. My brother's daughter will give birth in January, so Mom will have a great-grandchild in Woodstock.
And when she is finally ready to leave Florida and move north, she knows she will be warm in winter. Because she has a mink coat.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about
culture, politics, economics and travel. She can be reached at