20 Apr Mysterious raincoats
The sun has come out and I’m thinking of raincoats. Funny the things that suddenly take centre stage in your mind. I suppose it’s the change of seasons, the change of wardrobe for the warmer months. That’s had me footering around in my inheritance – some of it still hangs in my wardrobe. ‘Footering’ is a lovely old Scots word. When you put your mouth and lips around its sounds and syllables you can sense its meaning: fidget, fiddle or fumble. It’s usually uttered with an accompanying shake of the head.
In the clothing section of my inheritance were some surprising excesses: seven pairs of white gloves, more than forty headscarves, countless elegant shoes all beautifully kept and lying in their boxes, and three raincoats. Not just any old raincoats – two Burberrys and one Aquascutum. Nothing but the best. Timeless styles, the epaulettes and the belt, the detachable lining in the signature check. Perfect condition. My mother looked after things very well. Now, with the putting away of winter woollies and the scanning of the rack in the spare bedroom wardrobe for things that still fit and suit, the coats have floated to the top of the pile of my mother’s leavings still to be sorted. The pile should be getting smaller but seems to get bigger. I wonder if all my distracted footering around with it from time to time has bulked it up with untidiness or trapped pockets of air between the layers. There must be some reason. One day I may get to the bottom of it.
Along with the footering has come quite a bit of head scratching. The coats are enormous, all three of them. She wasn’t always as thin as she became in her 80s when osteoporosis and her lifelong circumspection about food had reduced her slender frame to a heartbreaking narrow gauge. But still, there is no way that any of these coats could possibly have fitted her at any stage in all the years I knew her. And why three? My mother liked to dress well but she also had an exemplary strain of Scottish frugality in her bloodstream – three raincoats all in the classic pale sludge (sorry, khaki) shade is out of character. Was she given them, I wonder? Is that why there are three and they’re all so big? She never mentioned; I never asked.
That’s the thing. The coats, like so many other inherited artefacts, pose questions that only come up when the person who could answer them is no longer around. I’ve understood that these last couple of years. Seems to me it’s a fact of life. I know there are very organised people who tape conversations with their parent or grandparent, spend time poring over photographs with them so that every possible detail can be recorded before it’s too late. Good on them. I thought about doing that often enough but there never seemed to be the right moment. Not when she was well and everything was fine. Not later on when urgent and immediate things kept getting in the way – like making sure she took her pills or paid her bills and assuring her she didn’t need to have all her windows replaced because “The man said they would have to be done by law in a few years”.
I’m not sure why I’m procrastinating about the raincoats since I was ruthlessly decisive about all the other clothes. It’s partly the value of them, a sense that they could be worth something and that she would want that value to be put to good use. Like giving the money they might yield to a charity she supported. I did that with most of her clothes and with the penny box she left on her window ledge that turned out to be full of 20p pieces. But really, it’s the mystery that keeps the raincoats hanging in my wardrobe. Did she ever wear them? Why did she keep them? There will be no more clues; there are no photos that I can find of my skinny mother belted up in a Burberry trench several sizes too big. Though there may be no answer, I suppose a solution will eventually come and I will deal with the embarrassment of raincoat riches and shift my focus from the past.
On which note, I must remember to clear out that skirt from the back of my wardrobe, the one that I haven’t worn for about 25 years and will never wear again. Oh, and the little suit with the Prince of Wales check that I wore to work once upon a time, and the black suede heels I can no longer walk in, and the dress I wore to that wedding that fits but no longer suits, and the… and…