That coat was the colour of the sea on a sunny day, all green-blue with sand and seaweed tossed together … or was it more the colour I saw at Luskentyre, on Harris?
(Beach at Luskentyre, Harris Reprinted here with permission from Wild About Scotland)
I loved the colour of it. I don’t know who had worn it before me. In our small family, children’s clothes were passed on to cousins. I was surprised when my mother produced it one day and made me put it on. Here was a ‘good’ coat. It was so heavy it flapped when I walked or walloped my legs if I ran. The label inside proclaimed ‘Harris Tweed.’ On the outside were brown, shiny leather buttons, a pocket each side with a silky soft, slippery lining and a staunch belt with a buckle I found hard to handle. The fabric felt the same as my dad’s good jacket, but his was mostly grey, with purple-pink bits when you looked really closely.
Dad explained how the cloth was woven on a loom and then dyed with all sorts of things, but mostly plants. Peering at my sleeve, I fingered the threads looking for a pattern. Sunday School was the perfect place to study the weaving, scratch at the different colours, pull off straggly fine hairs and fluff, all while humming softly. How were those buttons made? I wobbled one so much it had to be sewn back on again, tightly, while I stood watching.
The collar against my neck made me itchy so I had to put one of my Mum’s headscarves between coat and skin. Looking back, I think wearing that coat marked the beginning of my fashion sense, something that I did not share with my mother.
It all came out when we were getting ready to go to a summer wedding in town. Billy McTavish, who used to dandle me on his knee as a toddler, was getting married to a big girl I’d only met once. I adored this tall, young man and had been hoping he’d wait for me to grow up but here, now, he wasn’t.
My summer dress I liked. It was soft, white cotton scattered with little purple roses. It had two pockets. My white, hand-knitted cardigan had been taken out from under the carpet, peeled from its paper wrapping and held up beautifully pressed. This year’s Clark’s sandals had been freshly whitened. My white ankle socks were new.
I baulked as my mother approached bearing that tweed coat. I cried, which was as much of a tantrum I could ever muster then. I got worse when Mum got our straw hats down from the top of the wardrobe. How to explain what I felt? How could I explain why a straw hat does not go with a tweed coat? My younger sister was always more outspoken than I and surprised me some weeks later with retorts like “I’m not wearing that!” even on school days.
I cried more … unlucky before a wedding. My mother bargained. If I wore the coat I could carry the white basket (shaped like a flower pot with two life-like cherries on the side) that my aunty gave me when she came back from her big holiday. My sister beamed at this news. She’d get hers if I got mine! These two treasures had been locked in the china cabinet since the day Aunty went home, ages ago.
With my coat on, my precious basket was placed into my hands. My straw hat was straightened again. It looked like a flying saucer after an unsuccessful landing and was held in place by elastic which always left a red mark under my chin. There is a B&W photo somewhere in one of our family albums to prove all this. There we stood before the ceremony, holding the pose on the steps outside the kirk. Despite the basket, you could tell how I was feeling by the look on my face, under that hat, in that coat.
That Coat – Text, Drawings and photo from Lossiemouth Bridge by Meg Philp©2019
Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp Copyright © under Australian Law.