A GRAY COAT

When I was about nine or ten years old,

I accompanied my mother on a bus downtown

where we went to Lerner’s, a mostly women’s

clothing store, where my mother tried on

different winter coats, and finally settled on a

gray coat that had an attached belt and a wide

collar.

My mother paid a couple dollars and put the

coat in lay-a-way, agreeing to pay a dollar a

week for the coat until it was paid for. I really

didn’t pay much attention to the financial end

of this transaction until my mother told me to

remember where the store was located because

she wanted me to make the trips downtown every

week to pay a dollar towards her coat in lay-a-way

(since my bus fare would only be a nickel each way–

an adult fare was probably double that).

So this is what I did.  I don’t remember how many

trips I had to make to Lerner’s but when it was

almost paid for, my mother went downtown to

finish paying off her coat and brought it home.

By this time I knew my way around a radius of

five or six blocks of the downtown area, my

favorite spot being Fountain Square.

I rarely had any money to spend–two nickels

for bus fare and a dollar for the gray coat in

lay-a-way–but meantime, I discovered the

5 & 10 cent stores in downtown Cincinnati,

and many thrift stores where you could buy books

for about twenty-five cents each. My favorite

discovery  was a huge bookstore called

Acres of Books that had three or four floors

of used books–everything your heart desired.

By the time I was about 11 years old, I was

babysitting for various neighbors–and two

dollars earned from babysitting could buy

quite a few books.

I should add, the wedding dress I bought for

myself in 1958 came from Lerner’s. (It always

knocks my socks off when I watch “Say yes

to the Dress” on TV–girls bring their girlfriends,

mothers, aunts, cousins–when they are shopping

for a wedding gown). I went to Lerner’s by myself

and with $100 that my grandmother gave to me

for a wedding present, I bought the dress, little

hat/veil, shoes, – everything I needed to walk

down the aisle – with money left over (for books

no doubt)

I am guessing that my mother decided I was

responsible enough to run other errands for

her because she began sending me to Cardinal

Craftsman, a greeting card company located a

Eight and Stat Streets, requiring me to transfer

under the viaduct to another bus going in that

direction.  She would give me a list of the boxes

of cards she wanted and the money to pay for

them. Then she would sell the cards individually

to friends and neighbors. I often sold cards to the

neighbors too.

I wish I could remember more about that gray

coat but at that age I only focused on whatever

I found interesting–like Fountain Square, thrift

stores and book stores–oh, and all the little toys

and trinkets you could find at the five-and-ten cent

stores.

I was aware that y mother dressed very stylishly

whenever she and my father went out together;

I’m guessing that her gray coat with an attached

belt and wide collar was very stylish in 1950 or ’51.

And by the time I was twelve years old, I was taking

my two younger brothers downtown with me, to do

our Christmas shopping. We rarely had more than

a dollar or so to do all our Christmas shopping for

parents, siblings, grandparents–all of our purchases

made at the 5 & 10 cent stores–along with visits

to the department stores to visit the Santa Clauses

and get a free peppermint stick. Somehow we

always managed to share a grilled cheese sandwich

and a coke  and make all of our gift purchases as well

(loaves and fishes?).  Its one of mine and my two younger

brothers most   endearing memories.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted February 14, 2015

updated July 28, 2018

 

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