The Old Green Coat

The Old Green Coat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

The Old Green Coat

It’s difficult to decide whether growing pains are something teenagers have—or are.
~Author Unknown

Children learn a great deal from their parents through the years, from the basics of walking and talking, to the more complex concepts of beliefs and values. Some of this information is taught through words, but most is simply learned by example. Occasionally, a lesson remains so vivid in your memory, that it dramatically influences your life. My mother’s old green coat had that impact on me.

My mother and I never had one of those cutesy, “dress in matching mother-daughter clothes” relationships. But it was good—until my teenage years when my mother became my opponent in a battle of wills. In the confused, uncertain mind of a teenager, this translated to, “She doesn’t care, understand or love me.” As a matter of fact, I was quite sure that she had no idea what love was really all about. While she was mopping the floors, cooking meals, helping my father with their business and raising five children, I was listening to the music, reading poetry and experiencing the excitement of love.

As the winter of my sixteenth year approached, the tension between us grew. Looking back now, I realize that I took every opportunity to lash out at her in an effort to soothe my own insecurity. And that is exactly what I did when she unpacked that old green coat of hers. Well-worn and out of style, I bluntly told her that I could not believe she would wear it for another season. She began to say something about not having the money for a new coat, but I was already spouting phrases like, “When I’m older, I will have a beautiful coat, a rich-looking coat. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a rag like that.” She hung the coat in the closet and said nothing.

Christmas morning was always an exciting time in our house, and that year was no exception. The sound of laughter, kids yelling and paper ripping filled the living room. Though I tried to maintain what I thought was a sense of maturity, I was anxious to see what “Santa” had brought. One box way in the back caught my attention. It was large, brightly wrapped and it had my name on it. I quickly tore it open and lifted the lid. Inside was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen. Brown suede with a white fur collar, it was nicer than anything I had ever dreamed of owning.

Looking up, I caught my mother’s eyes. I thought of the old green coat and, instantly, I realized how precious this gift really was. She knew what a coat like this would mean to me, and she was willing to make do with her old coat so that I could have it. And what was even more profound was what I saw in her eyes. They did not reflect resentment from her having made this sacrifice, but instead they gleamed with joy, as if it were she who had received the very best gift. Suddenly the true meaning of love was clear to me.

I wish I could tell you that our relationship magically changed into a loving and giving one after that day, but that only happens in the movies. We still fought and found fault with each other, but I always held a special place in my heart where I loved her and I knew that she loved me.

Eventually, the teenage years ended and mutual love, respect and friendship grew between us, and has remained there since. I now have children of my own and I love them with an intensity they cannot yet understand. It’s the love my mother taught me the year she wore her old green coat—and I began to grow up.

~Kathy Smith Solarino

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