Raincoats and Ham Sandwiches

All the girls were wearing khaki-colored raincoats. I didn’t have one, so I began the beg-and-whine routine on my mom to get one. How could any decent teenage girl not expect to be a clone of every other girl in her clique? Mom either realized it was important for me to fit in with my friends or got tired of listening to me whine. I got the coat.

I wore that prized coat that winter and maybe the next, but I don’t really remember much about it. I’m also sure that, by at least the following year, it would have been totally uncool to wear a two-year-old coat. Maybe mom wore it after I discarded it; I’m not sure. By this time, it was totally off my radar. I was on to Weejuns—Kiltie Weejuns with tassels, to be exact.

Only decades later did I realize what was required for me to get the coat. By the time Mom brought up the coat, Dad had died, and she was living with me. We were sitting around one weekend, and she, out of the blue, asked me, “Do you remember that raincoat you just had to have in high school?”

I thought about it for a minute and retrieved a nebulous memory of a sorta tan raincoat I kinda remembered, and replied, “Yes, I believe I do.”

She responded, “I ate a ham sandwich every day that winter so you could have that coat,” and turned her attention back to her magazine.

“You did what?” I asked, aghast. I wasn’t sure I had heard her correctly. It was such an odd thing for her to be talking about. I was confused.

She said, “Yes, after I bought you that coat, I couldn’t afford to eat out. I carried my lunch every day. Ate in the cafeteria. Sometimes I took a few chips or a cookie, too, but mostly just the sandwich.”

“If you couldn’t afford to buy me the coat, Mom,” I said, “why didn’t you just tell me no?”

“There was no telling you no at that age. I wanted you to fit in with your friends, so I made a little sacrifice. It was okay.”

“Why do you bring it up after all these years?” I asked, doing a quick calculation. “That was forty years ago.”

“I just thought about it,” she said and went back to her magazine.

I sat there, befuddled by what she told me, and thinking I acted like a selfish, little brat. I had a few stomping-fit experiences with my own children, so I could appreciate what it meant not to want to deal with a contrary child.

After a while, I said, “I remember another ham sandwich, Mom.”

She looked at me and was now the one with a curious, confused look on her face.

“What do you mean, honey?”

“When you were taking CEU hours to get your license renewed, and I was taking classes at the junior college, we used to eat lunch together,” I said.

“I remember,” she said with a smile.

“One day we had ham sandwiches, and you put mustard on my sandwich,” I replied. “I smarted off at you—in front of your friends—that I didn’t like mustard on my sandwich.”

“Yes, I remember that, too.”

“I shouldn’t have acted that way, period, and certainly not in front of your friends. I apologize.”

“Thank you, honey. I appreciate that.”

“Thank you, Mom, for eating all those ham sandwiches so I could be just like all the other girls. You know, there were only a few of us who actually had a blasted khaki raincoat.”

“I know. The ones important to you had one. I wanted you to have one, too.”

We both learned something important that day. Mom knew the verse from Proverbs well:

Start off children in the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.–Proverbs 22:6

Mom learned that her diligence bore fruit. I learned I was not alone in making sacrifices for my children. I also learned I was blessed to have a mother who could be gracious and accept a long-overdue apology.

Bess Terrell’s faith guides her writing. After the premature death of her husband, she wrote almost exclusively about grief recovery, using her stories and poetry to help others on their path to a new normal. Bess has enjoyed writing and painting since an early age, entertaining everyone with her stories and illustrations. Along with a fellow widow, she published Finding Your Second Wind, a successful book of grief-recovery poetry. She received a new poets award for “Stones Ripple on Water,” included in the book. Bess has published numerous short stories and poems, both online and in magazines. She and Andy, her Yorkie, reside close to her three grandjoys.