Today, I want to tell you a story about an ancient garment that never gets old.
She was the perfect southern Granny with a fully stocked fridge and a freezer full of lima beans and okra from her garden. I was on a short weekend break from college visiting my grandmother in Nashville, TN, and she was determined to send me back buttered up and busting at the seams.
“Are you hungry? Can I fix you somethin’?” She’d ask a hundred and eighty-nine times a day.
“No Granny, I’m fine,” I replied. Again.
“Do you want a biscuit? I could make you some biscuits.”
“Really, I’m fine Granny. I don’t need anything.”
“I have pimento cheese. Do you want a sandwich?” she insisted.
“I don’t like pimento cheese, Granny. And I’m not hungry.”
She would have none of it.
“Oh, but it’s so good. I’ll fix you a pimento cheese sandwich. With some pickles. And a coke-cola.”
“Sure, Granny. That’d be great!”
There was no use arguing. It was easier just to give in. She wasn’t happy if she wasn’t filling your belly with something. And she did buy bottled coke, a southern delicacy.
Granny’s servant heart and giving spirit didn’t stop there. She would give you the shirt off her back, or the housecoat, as the case may be.
The next morning, she was getting ready in the teensy half-bath that made her bedroom slightly grander than the other two bedrooms in her matchbox of a house. I was laying across the bed, enjoying a little girl time with one of my favorite people on the planet.
She was wearing the most adorable pink dressing gown with blue and white lattice across the top. Adorable in a matronly, senior citizen kind of way, not a hip college student kind of way. She looked like the birthday cake at a 4-year-old’s princess party. Cute as she could be.
She was perfect.
“That housecoat is so cute on you, Granny!” I made the mistake of saying out loud. Before I could get the words out of my mouth, she had disrobed and was shoving the matronly moo-moo at me.
“Here, honey. Take it!”
“Oh, no, no, no Granny. I couldn’t take your housecoat.” I pleaded.
My inner monologue was more like: “Please, don’t make me take your housecoat, Granny. Please!”
“Take it. I insist. I want you to have it.”
“Ok. Thanks Granny.”
There was no getting around it. That housecoat was heading back to college with me. I buried it under a pile of clothes in my closet and didn’t give it a second thought.
Until one morning several weeks later when I was about to cake my hair with spray, it was the 90’s after all, and I paused realizing that my delicate silk blouse would never be the same after the onslaught of my salon products. I needed a layer of protection, something durable and polyester. Something that I didn’t mind getting dirty. Something that would never leave the room.
Eureka! I had just the veneer I needed.
I dug the adorably hideous housecoat out of my closet, covered my fragile blouse, and sprayed to my heart’s content.
After that, Granny’s housecoat became a regular part of my morning ritual. Before long, I ventured out into the hallway and even into the lounge wearing it. Everybody already thought I was odd, looking like a pink petit four only added to the mystery.
But one day, I was in-between church and some high-brow choral concert, and I didn’t want to change my sleek, sliver suit. So, I put Granny’s housecoat over it to eat lunch. I was in a frantic hurry. I needed to pick my roommate up off campus and I was still stuffing my face, so I decided to brave it.
I ventured out of the dorm into the wild, wearing this very domestic, matronly attire.
To my absolute horror, I ran into the one person on campus that I didn’t want to see, the guy I had been pining after for months. I called him GG, short for Greek god. I had a monstrous crush on him, though we had never actually spoken. Sometimes words aren’t necessary. And sometimes words are better left unsaid. As I was soon to find out.
I was running between two closely parked cars and there he was, smack-dab in front of me. And here I was looking like a pink and blue doilie in my Granny’s housecoat.
I wanted to blend into a wall, and I could have if I had been in an outdated, Victorian spinster’s cottage covered in frilly pink and blue wallpaper. But there was no wall here. Only air.
Something had to be said. Something witty and clever. I stuttered . . .
“Hi. This is my grandmother’s. It isn’t mine. Well, it is now. I didn’t steal it. She insisted that I take it. I didn’t want it, but she made me take it. She will make you eat pimento cheese even if you don’t like it. You can’t say no.”
The words wouldn’t stop coming. They hung in the air like the overwhelming fumes from my hair products.
Clever and witty words were nowhere to be found. But there was a bounty of bizarre.
Then, there were no words, just an eternal pause filled with nervous laughter on my part and a very peculiar expression on his.
He squeezed past me and went on his way. There was no glance back like in the movies. Nope, no, huh-uh . . . he kept on walking.
Mortification is too mild a word.
I realized that the nervous verbiage I spewed covered me in colors far more awkward than the Pepto-Bismal pink and baby blue moo-moo I was wearing. Why, why can’t I make myself shut-up sometimes? Like my housecoat, my inner monologue should’ve stay inside where it belonged.
It was a brilliant first impression, so stellar that there never was a second. Granny’s housecoat wasn’t just hairspray repellant, it was college-crush repellant as well.
In a very odd twist of fate, ten years later, three states and 600 miles away, a man on whom I did manage to make a good first impression, a man I married, crossed paths with GG in a job interview. Yep. My husband hired my college crush and became his boss. I’m not kidding.
Turns out GG wasn’t very dependable. He wasn’t a very hard worker, and he didn’t like to show up for work when he was supposed to.
So, my husband fired my college crush.
Maybe Granny’s housecoat protected me from more than hairspray. Maybe wearing it out the dorm that day wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
I’d like to think that I’ve inherited a lot of things from my Granny. Her generous spirit, her hospitality, her love of bottled coke and biscuits.
But more than anything, I’ve inherited her faith.
Granny didn’t have a fancy faith. It was deep and abiding, but it wasn’t progressive. Huh-uh. It wasn’t subject to the winds of cultural change. It wasn’t in style. No, Granny’s faith was old-fashioned. It was tried and true. It was durable.
She was never ashamed to wear it out of the house, but it was most clearly seen in the day to day domestic duties of life, in the thousands upon thousands of generous acts she did for others on a daily basis.
I have a lot to live up to there. I often fail, but her faith is the fabric of who I am. It is strong and sturdy. It is built for the long haul. It often makes me stick out in this lost world, but it is made to protect me for a lifetime. It is made to last.
Fifteen years later, when Granny left us, I gave the eulogy at her funeral. I talked about her steadfast, old-fashioned faith . . . and I wore her housecoat. Proudly, in public. And I didn’t have to dig it out of a closet or search for it high and low. It was hanging on my bathroom door where it still hangs today.
Yes, to this day, Granny’s housecoat is a part of my morning ritual.
But it is so much more than that. It is a part of who I am. It’s the best part. The strongest and deepest part. It’s the part I want to pass on to my children and my grandchildren.
I will give this faith to them. I will insist that they take it, and I won’t take no for an answer.
Still, I know that I can’t make them wear it. But it is my deepest desire that one day they will find the need for something to cover them. And they will find that this old-fashioned faith fits them well. And they will wear it proudly . . . indoors and out.
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright — turned stay-at-home-mother—turned author, speaker and blogger. She is dedicated to helping other women see their worth in a season when they often feel less-than.
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