Whenever I see men’s overcoats for sale, I remember when my husband did not have one — and why.
He had started college during the Depression but, after one year, took a 4-year break to join the FBI and then the Marine Corps. He left the Marines with several pair of heavy wool pants and a wool overcoat — all military olive drab, part of the scanty wardrobe he brought to our marriage.
We married in August and a few weeks later, he had his first teaching job in a county seat in northwest Oklahoma. He had no money to buy clothes so he had those Marine Corps uniform pieces dyed dark brown and black.
It was a cold winter. In addition to teaching history, speech and journalism and being the assistant football coach, he drove a school bus to earn the $2,400 dollars we lived on from September till June, so he wore that dyed overcoat a lot. Not that it bothered him. He was a proud ex-Marine..
Five years and two cotton-picking schools later — where school closed for several weeks when the cotton was ready to be pulled — he earned some extra money working nights at a cotton gin. He put a winter coat on lay-away.
We had two little boys, 2 and 4, and I was pregnant again. It was about time for the faculty’s annual Christmas party. I had two maternity smocks that my sweet mother-in-law had made me but having been through two pregnancies, they definitely were not party wear. I yearned for something new and glamorous — well, as glamorous as a woman in her third pregnancy could be.
Then, at the department store where my husband’s new overcoat lay in waiting for him, I found a beautiful maternity smock exactly right for the holiday season — white faille with a gold thread running through.
I sadly described it to my husband, lamenting the fact that we had no money for such an extravagance.
“Here’s what you can do,” he said. “Use the money I’ve paid down on the overcoat. Will that be enough to pay for it?
“Just about,” I said, “but I can’t do that. You’ve been wearing that old, dyed overcoat for five years and you really need a nice coat for speech trips.”
“Nah,” he insisted. “I don’t wear a coat that often. I’ll get one later. You go ahead and get the new smock.”
Of course I let him talk me into it. I did feel guilty — but not enough to turn down his generous offer.
And, truly, I don’t think my husband did mind. It was never clothes — never things — that were important to him. It was always family, ideas and teaching that mattered most.
It was many more years before he got a new coat. We moved a little farther south with less severe winters. Then, one year, he brought home an expensive, classy, camelhair overcoat that had caught his eye.
He looked debonair and handsome in that new coat though he seldom needed it. But never as debonair and handsome as in that old dyed Marine Corps coat he cheerfully wore so that I could have a glistening white maternity smock with gold threads for Christmas.
Mary McClure lives in Lawton.