The Mink Coat

on December 21, 2013 in The Mink Coat, Tucker

“I am wearing that skirt today!” I demanded.

“Oh no you are not! Mary Ann is wearing that skirt today,” said Patricia, my older sister.

“You and Mary Ann always get to wear the long skirt,” I argued.

“That’s right, Pat. Diane is right,” argued Becky Leake in my defense.

And that’s the way it was in our playhouse built behind Daddy’s workshop. The playhouse was not really a house since it had no walls. The walls were made from thick rows of pine-straw fetched from the woods just a few feet away; the furniture consisted of bricks and boards discarded from Daddy’s workshop.

It was fun to play dress up and pretend to manage our own home, but more fun was to be had if one could wear the long skirt and pretend to be “Mother” or “Mother’s helper.”

Becky and I were always on the losing end and never got to be “Mother.” We always had to be the “guests,” and there were no dress-up clothes for visitors.

And one day, Becky Leake had enough of that. She went home across the road in a huff, but she came back all smiles. And why not? She was carrying a mink coat.

“You’d better put that back, Rebecca!” Mary Ann Leake said in complete devastation.

“Nannie won’t care. She won’t need it until Christmas. We can play with it today,” said Becky – with all smiles.

With reluctance, Mary Ann conceded to her (slightly) older sister. All four of us were intrigued by the beauty of such a jacket – in our playhouse.

After we all tried on the mink coat, Pat and Mary Ann decided to continue sharing the long skirt, not the mink. We had no problem with that, since Becky and I had a turn at trying on the long skirt. The brown and white checked skirt was a tad too small for Becky and too big for me.

So Pat and Mary Ann would continue to share the long skirt, while Becky and I would share the mink coat. All four of us agreed that it was a good deal all around.

Becky had no problem wearing the gorgeous coat. She pretended to be an “important guest” from New York City. As she stood there in her mink coat, she described the Statue of Liberty, Radio City Music Hall and Broadway.

Then it was my turn. The mink was actually a jacket length which made a full length coat for me. But even with open toed sandals and shorts – it was too hot to wear the mink for long. Georgia summers are just too hot and humid for such attire. Soon after my grand entrance, the mink coat was hung on a pine tree limb which doubled as the “hall-tree.”

As I sat there enjoying my invisible cup of tea, I told stories of the North Pole and how I had run into Santa. I played a guessing game with them so that they could guess what awaited them Christmas morning, all the while stroking my mink coat as it dangled from the pine tree limb. Mary Ann enjoyed guessing until it came to her turn. She did not want to know what she was getting for Christmas, even though it was just a pretend game. Christmas had to be a surprise to her, reality or make believe.

What fun we had, but summertime was not all about playing house. The warm days gave way to soft ball games, swimming, and rainy day games of Parcheesi and Clue.

We had a great summer and then came the fall. We saw less of the Leake girls since we were all busy getting ready for school at Tucker Elementary, just a five minute walk behind our homes. As the year progressed, seeing the Leake girls at school and the walk to and from school, was about the only time we saw them.

One weekend Becky and Mary Ann did take the time to join our family as we raked and played in the red and gold leaves that had fallen to the ground in our woodsy yard. An odd thing happened while playing in the leaves.

Patricia’s kitty, Precious, ran wild in circles. It was apparent that something was seriously wrong with the animal. Mama called the animal control center.

The animal control men could not catch Precious. The frightened cat climbed up on top of Daddy’s workshop and out of reach. The animal control men were afraid the cat would flee into the woods.

“If anybody can, my daughter can get that cat for you. That cat will do anything for her,” Daddy said as he looked at Patricia.

With that Patricia joined the men. Daddy explained how important it was to let Precious go away.

Eight year old Patricia cried, but worked hard at controlling her sobs as she said, “I need a baby blanket.”

With that our little sister, Barbara, courageously gave up her long time baby blanket. Pat took the blanket and ascended the ladder while Daddy held it secure.

When atop the roof, Patricia flattened the blanket and called out, “Here Precious, here Precious.”

Precious heeded her master and came.

Pat wrapped her “baby” in the blanket and carefully climbed down the ladder. She bravely handed the poor cat over to animal control. They placed Precious in a cage.

Before leaving, one man examined Precious, and said it looked like the poor cat had gotten a bad case of the wolf-worm (caused by green flies).

As soon as they drove away with Precious, Daddy looked for the “fly infestation” while Mama consoled Patricia. Becky, Mary Ann, Barbara, and I looked on and cried too, but not nearly as much as Pat.

Daddy did not have to look far. Just behind his workshop was Nannie Leake’s forgotten mink coat on the ground and it was infested with flies. The tree limb, used as our hall-tree, broke under the weight of the coat. Apparently the soft furry coat had become a napping place for Precious.

The playhouse story came out as all four girls told how the mink coat got into that condition behind the workshop.

Daddy found a long board and scooped up the coat, then placed it on a big pile of red and gold leaves. He drenched the coat in gasoline and threw a lit match on it. With a matter of fact voice, he said, “Diane, go with Becky and Mary Ann and tell Ms. Leake what I just did to her mink coat.”

Whoa! Are you kidding me? Those were my thoughts, though I remained silent with my feet frozen to the ground. I think Daddy must have read my mind.

“Did you wear the coat, Donnie?” Daddy asked as a reminder.
“Yes, sir.”

“Then go with them,” gently urged Daddy.

As I slowly walked away, Mama said, “Diane, you made your bed, now you must lie in it. Now, get a move on.”

The three of us walked across Morgan Road to the Leake’s house. Becky was distraught and Mary Ann wept. I walked in silence wishing my father believed in corporal punishment. I would gladly take a spanking rather than face Nannie Leake today.

When face to face with her grandmother, all Becky could do was blurt out, “Nannie, I am so sorry.” She collapsed to the floor with grief. Mary Ann was the one who did the talking.

I whispered, “I’m sorry Nannie Leake.” My throat tightened up and I could not produce another word.

Nannie Leake was still and silent, finally she spoke in a strained voice.

“Girls, we will speak of this another day.” It was as though she did not see us at all as she leaned on her cane and made her way out of the house and into the front yard. There she stopped and watched the dark smoke billowing from behind our house. And though she was distraught, this elderly lady stood there looking grand as though she was a queen watching her castle burn down from a far. After all, the mink coat had been a Christmas gift from her late husband. She wore the coat during the Christmas season, whether it was cold in Georgia or not, and now it was gone.

After a while, she spoke again, “Mary Ann, go inside and cut a generous piece of your mother’s pineapple cake and wrap it pretty with the pink ribbon. You’ll find the ribbon in my top dresser drawer. Bring it to me.”

Mary Ann returned and her grandmother examined the beautifully wrapped plate of cake. She nodded her head in approval and said, “Give it to Diane. Diane, please give this cake to Patricia, with my love.”

“Yes ma’am.”

I took the cake and when I was about to cross Morgan Road, Nannie Leake again called my name, “Diane, please tell Mr. Story, that I send my apologies.”

Nannie Leake was a gracious lady even when the world did not go her way.

Often I do not meet the standards demonstrated so eloquently to me on that day of the mink coat burning. But with each and every failure, my memory bank offers up an image of a mink coat to correct me. These are just a few of the things that I learned while growing up on Morgan Road in Tucker, Georgia.

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