Don’t want no ugly winter coat

Stephen Harris

January 20, 2014

Normally 9-year-old boys aren’t interested much in clothes, so when Mom announced one time it was time to get me a winter coat I paid it little mind.

We traveled to downtown Elkin on a Friday night, the time when Mom would go to town to shop and drag, er, take me along. I expected only a quick stop at Belk or J.C. Penney to grab a coat and then hurry on to more important places like the stores with the comic books and toys.

I did not see the need for a “heavy winter coat,” as Mom called it. Nine-year-old boys do not get cold. Nine-year-boys are too busy running around and fidgeting at their classroom desks to get cold.

On cold winter mornings I did have a bit of a walk through the elements to the bus stop, about 30 yards. But once there I joined a group of the neighborhood kids, and it’s remarkable how a half-dozen rowdy kids can warm you up on a chilly morning.

The school bus was about half-full and half-warm by the time when we got on. No need for a heavy coat there.

At school, the classroom had a row of those old-school, metal radiators at the windows that sometimes would knock loudly early in the morning as if custodian John Paul was downstairs taking a hammer to the pipes.

But those old, coal-fueled radiators put out a lot of heat once they got cranked up, and by the time I got to class the room was warm and I had to doff my coat and leave it wedged between my back and the back of the desk chair for the entire day. The arrangement was uncomfortable, and the jacket tended to fall to the floor multiple times a day.

We’d marched in single file to the school gym for our morning and afternoon recesses. Indoor recess was a bit crowded. The gym included a basketball court but it was not full-sized.

We had no organized activity, so kids were all over the floor. Girls were on or near the bleachers or maybe up on the stage talking and doing as little as they could get by with. Boys were chasing each other around the court and up and down the bleachers. We’d also shoot kickballs through the basketball goals, at least those among us who could reach the hoop with a ball.

I wanted to be outside instead even though it was winter, and I tried to think of a way to play baseball inside the gym — and then convince the powers that be to let us do it.

So here I was not paying attention at J.C. Penney, which was in the present Kennedy Auto location, and Mom chose a heavy winter coat. I turned to see the salesman plop down this dirt-brown corduroy number on me.

It was heavy. It felt like medieval chain mail. I think the floor shook when he put that thing on me. Mom wanted it big enough for me to grow into. A kid could get lost in a coat like that.

It sure was an ugly thing, with round, black plastic buttons that had simulated cracks with a tinge of brown. The buttons were sewed on through a hook in the back, and that caused the buttons to hang limp like wilted lettuce.

The coat had a belt of the same, brown corduroy material that was held by loops on the sides and that allowed the belt to sag in back. How long would it be before a 9-year-old lost a belt like that?

A couple of vertical strips of corduroy on the front gave my new, heavy winter coat a fancy look. Nine-year-old boys are not into fancy.

So here I go trudging out of the house on school days wearing a coat that felt like a tent. Its color matched the gloom of winter and my mood. There was so much padding, I felt that coat could stop bullets.

I think about those two-minute walks to the bus stop in that massive corduroy armor when I see the delightful classic movie “A Christmas Story” that they continue to replay on TV at Christmastime. Good. May the reruns continue as long as we have TV and Christmas.

There’s a scene in “A Christmas Story” in which the overprotective mom overdresses the little brother of Ralphie, the grade-school star of the movie who has an overpowering desire for a Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas.

Little brother Randy comes outside and into the snow in a coat so overstuffed the kid looks like a bloated snowman. The poor kid can only waddle like a penguin, and when he falls, like a turtle turned onto the back of its shell, little brother can’t get up and needs a hand from Ralphie.

I was Randy as I took those long walks to the bus stop in that ugly, brown, heavy winter coat. At least I never got cold, and that coat’s weight must’ve built up my muscles.

I’d ditch that coat at the first sign of milder weather. But it was so massive it took years and a few missing buttons before I could outgrow the thing and hang it up in the closet for good.

Mom finally gave the ugly brown coat away so a new kid could get lost inside it and stop bullets. I’m surprised I didn’t see that coat turn up on “A Christmas Story.”

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.