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November 15, 2004 - "The Coat Legacy" by Melodie Tilander


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"The work an unknown good person has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green." ~Thomas Carlyle


I thought today's story perfect for our Thanksgiving theme this month! Melodie's beautiful memory of her grandmother's vast love despite her own childhood made me grateful, not only for my own family and blessings, but for the reminder that the human spirit can overcome anything!

"The Coat Legacy"
by Melodie Lynn Tilander

During her lifetime my grandmother gave me at least a dozen beautiful hand-sewn coats. And with each coat, as she adjusted my collar, she would say, "Melodie, may this coat keep you warm and remind you always that you belong to a family who loves you."

Soon I learned where those special words originated. They stemmed from Grandma's childhood. Making and giving coats to Grandmother was more than just a ritual of expressing her love. The gesture was symbolic to her. It was Grandma's way of saying you 'belonged' to the family.

Over the years, Grandma made coats for all her seven children and twenty-eight Grandchildren. Each coat was made especially for that person, taking into account their own taste and style. Grandma's coats were seamstress masterpieces. She would spend hours tailoring each one for an exact fit. The labor and love that went into each coat was phenomenal.

I remember the first time when Grandma told me the story about The Coat. At hearing the traumatic childhood incident, it gave a much deeper meaning to Grandma's compulsion of 'coat giving'.

The story went like this...Grandmother's family had been too large and too poor to survive on her papa's 'trades' alone. A family of fiftteen needed money. The little money they did raise as a family came from the combined efforts of both the children and parents alike. Sadly, it was my grandma who was the one continually sent out to work.

As a girl live-in she received very little money, because room and board most often was looked upon as enough. So to earn anything at all she had to stay for a significant amount of time and work long hours.

I remember as a little girl asking, "Why Grandma? Why did your mama make you work away from home when you were so little?"

My stomach ached when hearing Grandma's sad explanation, "Well according to my mama I was nothing but trouble and not worth anything. And when I was away, she said things ran smoother and she told me she never cared if I came home."

Each time Grandma packed her sack to leave her family, she said she prayed to God that her mama would miss her this time, and want her back. She begged God that someday she would feel like she 'belonged'.

As Grandma spent more time with each of these families she was farmed out to, they began caring about her and giving her bonus gifts for her work. Grandma said she was given everything under the sun, such as clothes, coats, shoes, fabrics, furniture, lamps, canned goods, baked goods, toys, and all kinds of fruits, nuts, honey & vegetables.

One time Grandma received and accepted a very expensive beautiful tan lined coat with dark brown trim that had hardly been worn. It was given for a bonus for a large canning job Grandma had done. She had worked through the nights as others slept so as not to use the people's stove during the course of the day when it was being used for meals. The lady that hired Grandma had been so happy with Grandma's canning skill and speed of the job that she had said, "I have never seen in my life more beautiful jars of peaches. Why every jar is a picture."

Grandma was proud of earning this gorgeous coat. She had never owned anything of its value in her life. And it was so beautiful with its gold buttons. Knowing that her mama needed a coat desperately, she decided on the spot that she would give this beautiful coat to her mama.

She daydreamed of what her mama's reaction would be to this beautiful coat, thinking she would be so surprised and happy. Grandma lovingly wrapped it in unwrinkled newspaper and tied a red ribbon around it and took it home.

Grandma said she would never forget her mother's response to her gift. Looking at the coat her mama replied, "What do I want with this old thing?"

The coat was never mentioned again. And it seemed like it just disappeared. Seasons changed and years went by, then one cold morning Grandma looked out the window, and to her surprise she saw her mama wearing the tan coat, with its beautiful brown trim and gold buttons. It was the coat she had given to her years before.

Grandma said, "On seeing Mama finally wearing my coat, I got such a pleasant feeling inside. It was a special warm feeling I had never felt before. I was literally flooded with love. And then a peace fell over me. It didn't matter to me that Mama had never said thank you or waited for so many years to wear it. It just made me feel so good that she was wearing it."

On seeing that her mama had finally accepted her gift, Grandma said she felt happier than she had ever been in her whole life.

Grandma explained, "You see my mama had rejected everything I ever tried to give her or do for her my whole life. The day Mama wore my coat was a sign to me from God that in some small way my mama had finally accepted me. It meant everything to me. And I knew my mama, and by her wearing my coat, it was proof that I belonged."

Grandma said her mama wore the coat most everyday from then on. She said from that point on she felt differently...she felt like she 'belonged'.

The 'Coat Legacy' my Grandmother passed on to each one of us.her lineage, was born out of her hurtful childhood. She had wanted it different for all of us. She wanted all her offspring to feel as if they belonged and were loved. And we did!

Melodie Lynn Tilander copyright 2004

Melodie is a 2TheHeart Writer of the Month, a graduate of the 2TheHeart "Get Published!" writing workshop, and is now published in two books! Learn more about this wonderful lady here:


The Letter Box:

Dear Melva Cooper,

Your story was a wonderful reminder that the men and women fighting in Iraq are each someone's son, brother, husband, neighbor and coach. Thank you for this story! Jennifer

So wonderful to have you back! You bring a spark of light to my day that was missing when 2theheart was on hiatus. Welcome back! Richard T, UK

Dear Melva,
My son is also severing in Iraq and I saved your story to mail to him. Thank for for writing this piece and sharing a glimpse of WHO the soldiers are! Love and prayers, Ginna Beane, VA

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