From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

The Green Pajamas

I often watched from inside the house as my mother lugged a bucket of coal up the back steps. There were seventeen steps, and she usually brought up three loads of coal. She’d smile at me when she passed the window. Many times I’d shout through the glass, “Let me help!”

Her answer remained the same. “No. You stay inside where it’s warm, Mannie. This only takes a minute. Besides, there’s only one bucket.” I must have been about nine years old.

You shouldn’t have to do this, Mama. You’ve already worked all day in an office. I know you are tired.

Sometimes I wouldn’t watch out the window. I’d busy myself in some other part of the house until I knew the coal for the next day had been brought up. Often I’d think about my friends who had fathers who could bring coal in. My own father had died before I was two.

Yet, even though my mother had to go to work each day and I missed not having a father, our life together in our small house included a lot of happiness.

As I grew older, I’d bring up the coal some days before my mother got home from work. It was terribly heavy, and I could never seem to get an adequate supply. I longed to find some way to make things better for her.

Unexpectedly, when I was about thirteen, I got a temporary job wrapping Christmas gifts at a local department store on the weekends. Although I was young and inexperienced, I worked quickly and earned twenty-three cents an hour. I was to get paid just before Christmas.

I wanted to get my mother something special that year—something to make life easier for her. After work one evening, I went window-shopping. I saw what my mother must have. A dark-haired mannequin modeled it. She had a radiant smile, and there were no tired lines on her face. She appeared pampered and relaxed in the moss-green satin lounging pajamas and short matching robe. She was about the size of my mother, I thought. I strained to see the price tag, turning my head almost upside down.

Twenty-five dollars and ninety-five cents. It was a fortune in 1950!

I had no idea if I would earn that much money. And even if I did, someone else might buy the beautiful set before I did. “Dear God,” I prayed, looking intently at the pajamas, “hold them for me. Don’t let anyone buy them, and let me make $25.95 at least.”

Many evenings after work I stood in front of the shop window looking at the pajamas, smiling with deep satisfaction, relieved that they were still there.

Two nights before Christmas, I got paid. I poured the money out of my pay envelope and counted it. Twenty-seven dollars and thirteen cents! I had more than enough. I ran to the store with the money in my pocket. I entered out of breath and said to the saleslady, “I want to buy the beautiful pajamas set in the window. It’s $25.95.”

The saleswoman knew my mother and me. She smiled warmly, but suggested, “Marion, don’t you think your mother would rather have something more . . . practical?”

I shook my head. I didn’t even understand her subtle and kindly meant suggestion. Nothing on earth could have changed my mind. Those pajamas were for my mother. God had kept everyone from buying them, and I had the money to pay for them. I watched almost breathlessly as the woman took the pajamas and robe out of the window. While she got a box, I reached out and touched the soft satin. It was an exquisite moment. She wrapped the gift in soft tissue paper first, then in Christmas paper.

Finally, with the large package under my arm, I headed home. I put my mother’s gift under the tree wondering how I’d wait until Christmas morning.

When it dawned, I couldn’t open any of my gifts until my mother opened hers. I watched with a pounding heart.

She pulled back the tissue paper and her mouth formed a silent “O.” She touched the pajamas with one finger— then held up the robe. She looked at me and said, “Oh, Mannie! It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how you managed it, but I love it!”

I smiled and said, “Put it on, Mama.”

She did and cooked breakfast in the outfit. All morning and afternoon she told me how much she loved the gift. I knew she would. She showed it to everyone who came by.

Through the years, even after they’d fallen apart, my mother would still tell people about those pajamas.

I reasoned that somehow my gift had made up for her having to bring in coal, build fires and walk to work. Each evening my mother would put on her satin pajamas and we’d sit by the fire listening to the radio, reading or talking.

As a child, I never realized that I should have gotten her a sweater or boots. No one could have talked me into it, for the green satin pajamas seemed to transport us into another world, just as I knew they would.

Many years later, after I had children of my own, my mother was visiting with us one Christmas. Despite the joy of the season, I was a bit weary. It seemed like I’d been tired for months—maybe years. I’d finally come to realize that motherhood is a full-time, often mundane job, every day. The demands of raising a family had begun to show on my face and in my attitude.

The children squealed and tore into their presents. We were knee-deep in paper, which, I thought with irritation, I’d later have to clean up. Just then my mother handed me a present. “Merry Christmas, Mannie,” she said softly.

She hadn’t opened her gifts. She watched me as I carefully opened the large golden package. I folded back pink tissue paper and caught my breath. Slowly I lifted out the most beautiful, elegant pink-and-gold silk lounging robe I’d ever seen. I ran my hand over the gold-embossed design. “Ohhh,” was all I could manage for a few moments. Then I said, “I can’t believe it’s for me. It’s not something a mother would wear.” I looked down at my worn flannel robe through a blur of tears.

“Put it on,” my mother urged.

As I threw off the old robe, it seemed that I shed discouragement and weariness, too. I stood up wrapped in the lovely silk robe, knowing fully how Cinderella must have felt.

“Hey,” one of the children said, “look at Mama. She’s pretty.” Everyone looked at me. My husband smiled.

Standing there that Christmas morning in the elegant robe, I suddenly remembered back through the years and recalled those green satin pajamas. I looked at my mother. I believe she remembered them, too. She must have, to have known how desperately I needed that robe. There was no need to say anything. We both understood the gifts too well.

Marion Bond West

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