My Great Aunt Grace is the matriarch of my father’s family. She’s the last surviving McConnell child, the youngest of a very fun, Irish bunch. She is my grandmother Elizabeth’s sister.
Aunt Grace is full of stories. I like to chat with her about once a week to see what she’s up to and almost every time, she ends up telling me a unique piece of her history, my heritage.
Today our discussion included cleaning stuff out of our lives. She started off by telling me she’s giving many of her LP records to the library for their rummage sale. Then we both commented on how TV news stations in nearly every large city host coat drives for the needy each autumn. It seems common. Stations collect coats at local dry cleaners and the dry cleaners offer their services for free and on a particular weekend, the coats are available to anyone in need, in school gymnasiums and other gathering places.
Aunt Grace grew up in Brooklyn, the only one in her family to do so. The other, older kids, my Grandma Betty included, grew up in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Aunt Grace was most likely a change-of-life baby…or rather, as she imagines, the one her parents got absolutely right. She stayed single, living with her mother in Bay Ridge.
As we discussed coat drives, she said, “Have I ever told you the story of my brown coat?” I said I didn’t recall, but wanted to hear it.
Aunt Grace and her mother, Catherine, had a cleaning lady named Mrs. Brown. One particularly frigid Brooklyn evening, when Aunt Grace arrived home from work, Catherine said to her, “Grace, you’re going to need to get yourself a new brown coat.”
Aunt Grace said, “Mom, I already have a brown coat.”
Catherine said, “No, dear, you don’t. I gave it to Mrs. Brown today.”
Aunt Grace said she was immediately furious. ”What! Why did you give away my coat?”
Catherine said, “Because you have a blue one, a black one, and a red one in the closet already. Besides, would you believe Mrs. Brown came here today with nothing but a light jacket over her clothes? You can get another brown coat.”
Aunt Grace continued her sour streak and snapped, “Well, if you gave her the coat I hope you gave her one of my purses to match!”
And Catherine said, “Oh yes, dear, I’m so glad you mentioned it. I did.”