One of the most formative events in shaping my personality is the fact that when I was 15 my parents, who were missionaries in Africa, returned to the mission field. We had been home on furlough, a year long respite, and it was time for them to resume their service. Since I was in 10th grade, and a typical mission term at that time was five years, we pondered long and hard.
My parents very much involved me in their decision making—should I return to Africa with them only to have to come back in three years for college, or should I stay here from the outset? As a young (and foolish) teen, I was rooting to stay here. What teen wouldn’t say—oh yes, I can manage on my own? Well, not really on my own, as I would stay for one year with my aunt, my mother’s sister, then for the remainder of the five years, with my uncle, my father’s brother.
So the decision was made—I would stay in the U.S., my parents would go to Africa with my younger brother and sister.
When I moved to be with my uncle and aunt, the adventures began. They had never had children and suddenly here they had not only a child for whom they were in every way responsible—but a 16 year old at that!
With the long view of time having past, I can look back and know how good they were to me. They were very strict—I can remember lying in my bedroom with my pink plastic radio listening to. . .rock ‘n’ roll, with the volume turned down oh so low, so they wouldn’t hear. I was not allowed to date at all. When I would be out with girlfriends, I kept saying—I have to go, my uncle and aunt expect me to come home.
And they did not drive me to any school events. Somehow I managed to be in a play in school and hitch rides to get to practice, to be in school choir, and to get to all the home football games.
Perhaps the strongest memory I have is of my aunt insisting, when I would buy clothing , that I make sure whatever the item was be practical. The one shopping trip that I remember so clearly was when we went to buy me a winter coat. We drove to downtown Harrisburg to Pomeroy’s Department Store. I have no recollection of what types of coats we might have looked at, but I most certainly remember what I bought.
My aunt picked out a pea-soup green wool coat. It was straight from shoulder to knee with a small Peter Pan color. She admired it and said “It is so practical.” I recall that I instantly disliked it. Actually, make that HATED it. I assume there were other coats I liked better that weren’t practical. But I bought the practical coat.
Around this time, and completely disconnected from the coat purchase, another aunt—who has always been one of my favorites—sent me a gift. My father’s sister, she is 14 years my senior. When I was growing up, she took me to symphonies and movies, which seemed such a grown-up thing to do. It is hard to capture in words my affection for her. But she always seems to do the right thing unbidden.
The gift she sent me was a lovely velveteen blazer style jacket. It had an unusual pattern of deep greens and blues, almost peacock like. It was immediately dubbed my smoking jacket, because that’s what it put me in mind of—those old-fashioned brilliantly colored jackets that had no use except to be worn in drawing rooms where cigars were smoked!
Oh, how I loved that jacket. It was so utterly impractical, yet I wore it as much as I could. Over time, it wore out and was consigned to a clothing bin or the trash. Recently, while out shopping, I saw another blue and green utterly impractical jacket, and snatched it up without a moment’s hesitation.
Oh—the pea green practical coat? I wore it rarely and grudgingly and hated it every minute. Soon after I married, when we were living on a tight budget, I asked my husband if he minded if I got a new winter coat—and ditched the practical one! He didn’t mind at all.