From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

A New Coat

If there is one thing that growing up in the Midwest instilled in me, besides my insatiable craving for red meat, it is a love for football. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and spent most of my impressionable childhood years rooting for the Cleveland Browns during the ‘80s. In those years, the Browns were referred to as the “Cardiac Kids,” seemingly destined to always come one drive, fumble or interception away from a championship victory. Thousands of fans would travel over an hour through inclement weather to arrive at the dingy yet beloved Municipal Stadium and root for their heroes. I was one of them. Back then, my room—like so many of my friends’—was a shrine to Browns football. The walls were plastered with banners and posters of Ozzie Newsome, Bernie Kosar and my favorite player, Webster Slaughter.

Late in the 1987 season, I went with my dad to the nearby mall so he could buy a new coat. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my mom convinced my dad to replace his old coat, which had some pretty sizable holes it. I was only eleven, but my memory of that day remains vivid. It was lightly snowing when we arrived at the mall. The parking lot was plowed, but the lines were still buried under the snow. My dad did an extremely crooked parking job next to an uneven row of crooked cars. The minute the car came to a resting stop, I was out of the door and racing up to the mall entrance, leaving my dad trailing behind. As I approached the familiar tinted glass doors, one of them swung open and a huge figure came through it. The man was wearing a black jacket and sunglasses instead of a brown jersey with the number 84 printed on it, but I immediately recognized him. It was Webster Slaughter.

My heart began pounding, and I felt my ears go flush. I could barely contain my excitement as the man approached me. I looked up at my hero towering in front of me, and in a shaky voice said, “You’re Webster Slaughter, right?” He stopped in midstride just as he was passing and glanced back. “Yeah. Are you a Browns fan?” he replied. I think I startled him as I began to rattle off at the mouth at a hundred words a second. I proceeded to tell him I was a huge Browns fan and that he was my favorite player. He smiled but began to walk away saying something about being in a big hurry, which I didn’t hear because I hadn’t stopped talking. Desperately, I yelled to his back for an autograph, but he made no sign that he heard me and briskly kept going. As fast as he had emerged, he was gone.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to see my dad. I wondered how long he had been there. “Who was that?” he asked. When I told him, he looked back up and squinted his eyes at the parking lot, but I knew Webster was already gone. I could feel my dad looking at me, probably for some details of the chance encounter, but I said nothing. As we approached the men’s department, he finally asked me what had happened. “Nothing really. He was in a hurry. I just told him he was cool,” I blurted back. My dad gave me a concerned look, usually reserved for times he suspected I was about to do something to embarrass him. He dug into his pocket, pulled at a crumpled bunch of bills and handed me a few dollars. He told me to go play at the arcade while he picked out a coat. I grabbed the money and wandered off. About a half an hour later, my dad came for me and we headed home. Once there he opened the shopping bag in his hand. He told me he had a surprise and reached into it. “After you left, guess who I ran into?” he said with a smile on his face. I just stared blankly. “Webster Slaughter came into the store and said he saw me with you. He asked where you were and I said you were at the arcade. He said he went back to his car to get this for you, but you were gone.” He pulled his hand out of the bag and in it was a glossy photo of Webster Slaughter signed, “To my greatest fan.” I was so overjoyed I almost cried. I grabbed the picture and bolted up the stairs to my room. Proudly, I placed the signed photo on my dresser. I just sat on my bed almost in tears and stared. It’s hard to describe what I was feeling. Then I noticed something on the side. I looked closely at it and saw it was a small tag labeled $30. My first emotion was anger that I had been tricked. I stomped downstairs and yelled for my dad. There was no answer. Then I heard the sound of the shovel out front and went to the window. I stared out of the frosted pane at my dad, shoveling the walkway. He was wearing the same old coat with holes in the sleeves and back.

I thank my dad for the unacknowledged sacrifices he made for my siblings and me. I still have the picture of Webster Slaughter, but now on my dresser sits a picture of my dad and me.

Peter Lim

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