It is time to catch up with Linda Bethea and her extended family…and this week her well-meaning Grandma and her sometimes unwelcome gifts.
Grandma and the Coat from Hell by Linda Bethea.
Since there were five kids in our family, Grandma did her best to help out when she could.
Sometimes I still hate her for it. Once she went to the Goodwill Store and bought me the ugliest coat in the world. I didn’t have a problem with Goodwill. It was ugly that bothered me. It was a knee-length brown hounds-tooth wool dress coat of the style not seen since movies from the 1940’s, trimmed with brown velvet cuffs and collar and huge brown buttons with big rhinestones in the middle. I had hoped for a parka with fake-fur collar like the high society girls in my class. I turned to Mother, hoping for salvation. Mother was ecstatic, probably because she’d wanted that very coat when she was little back in the 1930’s. She made me try it on then and there. Mother’s joy was boundless when she noticed it had plenty of growing room!
Mother wasn’t faking her ecstasy. As soon as we were out of earshot, I whined that I despised that ugly coat and wasn’t going to wear it. She shut me down before I got too far and told me it was a beautiful coat which I’d wear as long as it fit. Truer words were never spoken. I was stuck with it. I slipped out without it whenever possible, and if caught, I took it off as soon as I got out of sight of the house. I sat down and flipped it over the back of my desk and a kid pointed out a large rip in the lining. This coat humiliated me even when I wasn’t wearing it!! I tried to lose it, but Mother was ahead of me. There was no hope for the ungrateful. I drug that abomination around for two years, until the cuffs were far above my wrists.
Finally, finally, it was time for a new coat. I was heartsick when Mother read us Grandma’s letter saying that she’d been back to Goodwill and gotten me a another “beautiful coat.” “I believe it’s prettier that the last one.” were her exact words. It would be hard to be uglier. I managed to put it out of my mind.
We loved getting boxes from Grandma. They were always full of wonderful things: animal shaped erasers, pencils with our names on them, wind-up toys, cars driven by cartoon characters, jumping beans, sticker books. She sewed well and always included something made especially for each of us. Grandma always packed the best at the bottom to build suspense.
This box was no different. Mother unpacked it dramatically, examining each article fully before passing it around to be admired. I knew she had to be at the bottom when she held her breath and said, “Oh, this is just gorgeous!” When she finally pulled it out, it took my breath, too. Grandma had somehow managed to find the exact replica of the nightmare I had abhorred for two years, but if anything, it was worse, in green hound’s tooth, “with plenty of room to grow!” That was when I realized that even though Grandma looked and acted like a sweet little old lady, she was the devil incarnate.
That wasn’t the worst of Grandma’s Goodwill gifts. When I was in the eighth grade and anxious to fit in, she hit the mother lode and stopped by Goodwill just after Shirley Temple cleaned out her closet. Grandma sent me several party dresses. Mother was overjoyed. They were exquisite and probably just what she had wanted twenty years earlier. Mother held up the worst of the worst, and reminded me, just in case I had gone into a coma and forgotten that I had a band concert coming up and needed a new dress.
I had been praying for a miracle, a box-pleated wool skirt with a pullover sweater like the popular girls wore. Hope died. She held up a disaster in sheer lavender with a wide satin cummerbund. Mother made me try it on right then. It was so sheer, my ugly cotton slip (which Grandma had thoughtfully provided earlier (all the other girls had lacy nylon ones) was perfectly showcased. It looked like a horrible joke. Better yet, its low cut back that showed off my pimply back perfectly. However, as sheer as it was, a high back wouldn’t have hidden anything. It fell a good three inches below my knees.. Mother explained it was tea-length, just what I needed in a fancy dress, and cut me off when I suggested hemming it. It would ruin all that beautiful embroidery around the tail of the skirt. I was heartsick. “Mother, I can’t wear this. It’s embarrassing. Nobody wears stuff like this!”
Mother went straight for the big guns…guilt. “Well, I’d wear it if I could. I’ve never had anything this nice. I haven’t even had a new dress since…” She got teary-eyed, suffering the dual pain of an ungrateful brat of a daughter and not having a new dress since the forties. I knew when I was whipped and slunk off to ponder my upcoming humiliation.
I decided the best plan was to be sick. On Thursday before the concert on Friday, the band director shot me down. Anybody missing the concert without a doctor’s excuse would fail band that grading period. Fat chance of getting a doctor’s excuse. We only went to the doctor for resuscitation. I prayed for a miracle. I got a nightmare. I tried to getting out in another dress, but Mother caught me and sent me back to put the lavender nightmare on. “It was so beautiful.” As I turned for her inspection, my ugly cotton slip looked especially stunning under sheer lavender. Every pimple on my back pulsed with excitement at its chance to shine. Mother was enchanted.
“Oh, don’t worry about your slip. Those little bumps aren’t that bad. Let’s just put a band aid on this big one.” I realized she didn’t lack fashion sense. She was just insane.
I don’t know why I didn’t have the good sense to sneak out another dress and change after I left the house.
Ignoring the fact that it was a hot May night, I grabbed a heavy pink sweater, need taking precedence over temperature. When I got to school, I rushed to the bathroom and tied a string around my waist, pulling the long skirt up and bunching it under the cummerbund. It might have looked a little better. My pink sweater hid the sheer bodice, ugly, old cotton slip, and my pimply back. I buttoned the sweater from neck to the waist, so it looked like I had bad taste in skirts as well confusion over the season. It was still an improvement over that lavender humiliation. I sweltered through the concert in embarrassment and moderate anxiety, instead of total the social annihilation I had dreaded.
As we filed out after the concert, I could feel the fabric bunched up under the cummerbund in back slipping free of the string, but I got to the bathroom before the entire skirt attained tea length. Only the back of the skirt trailed unevenly below my knees. All in all, the evening was a success. No one saw my ugly, old slip or pimply back. They only laughed as I walked off. I accustomed to snide remarks from mean kids, so two out of three wasn’t that bad.
Grandma, I hope God forgave you for getting me that awful stuff. I’m still working on it.
©Linda Bethea 2019
Now that I’m done with the bothersome business of workday world, I am free to pursue my passion, capturing the stories I’ve loved all my life. The ones you’ll read on my blog are good old Southern stories, a real pleasure to relay. Here in the South, we are proud of our wacky folks. I’ve preyed shamelessly on my family, living and dead, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, often changing the names to protect the innocent and not so innocent.
My mother illustrates my blog. I come from a rollicking family of nuts, hence the name of the blog Nutsrok Enjoy.
Born to a struggling farm family in the deepest of The Great Depression, Kathleen enjoys a colorful childhood, enhanced by her imagination, love of life, and the encouragement of her family.
She’s determined to build a better life for herself, getting herself into hilarious situations all along the way. Distinguishing herself in school and the community, she never takes her eyes off her goal.
Just as she’s about to get started, she meets Bill, the man who is going to help her on her way. Everything changes. And then changes again. The true story of a remarkable woman who will inspire you, make you laugh, and see life from a new perspective.
One of the many excellent reviews for the book.
Linda Bethea is a truly gifted story teller! I genuinely enjoyed reading the stories of her mother, Kathleen, growing up. My grandparents never told me stories of the Great Depression, so these stories provided me with much needed insight. The stories are told in a colorful, humorous tone that was a joy to read.
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Everything-Smells-Just-Like-Salad-ebook/dp/B01IVUXROQ
Also by Linda Bethea
About the book
WOMEN OF STRENGTH, FORTITUDE, AND BRAVERY
In this collection of six serials, Linda Swain Bethea weaves narratives of women through several centuries. The stories span from 1643 to 1957. Beginning in England in 1643, a young couple travels to Jamestown, Virginia, to begin a new life in the American frontier. The rest of the stories travel from West Texas to North Louisiana to the Texas Panhandle to East Texas.
Disease, death, starvation, and prison are faced with stoicism and common sense, and always, with a sense of humor.
The women in each tale stand tall and possess the wisdom and tenacity to hold families together under the worst conditions. Through it all, they persevere, and Linda Swain Bethea’s storytelling is a testament to the legacy they left.
Conversational and homey, you’ll fall in love with the women of Just Women Getting By – Leaving a Legacy of Strength, which celebrates the courage of those women who had no choice but to survive.
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Just-Women-Getting-Leaving-Strength-ebook/dp/B072DZ5XTP
Connect to Linda
My thanks to Linda for another wonderful story of family life and as always we appreciate your feedback.
You can catch up with all of Linda’s guests posts in her Directory