Coffee in My Garden – My Magic Coat
I bought this coat with money earned from the sale of my first short story. We were stationed in Japan then. I can’t remember if the check was dated on our anniversary (July 8) or received on our anniversary. Either way I counted it as an anniversary present. I’m hoping the story itself (typed out on my then state-of-the-art electronic word processor which could only see a line at a time pre-desktop/laptop computer age) and the copy of the check are in a box somewhere out in the garage (this afternoon’s project) because now I’m curious and it’s going to nag at me until I find out. There’s also a copy of Writer’s Digest with my sale noted in it – they should be all together. (St. Anthony – could use a little help here!)
The sale was to Highlights for Children – my favorite magazine when I was a child. One of my earliest dreams was to write for them.
Conventional wisdom says not to aim for the top markets first. I’ve never believed in that. I always shoot for the top, then work my way down.
Who am I kidding? I never work my way down. I keep revising until I get what I want. But I digress…
That story – “My Mother Is Afraid of the Dark” – was loosely based on a garage-cleaning incident when we were stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, FL.
I was cleaning out the garage (I think it was in preparation for the move to Japan) and my son and daughter were helping, as much as a 3-year-old and 4-year-old can help (which was actually quite a bit).
I don’t know if the bat was already in the garage and we disturbed it or if it flew in once the garage door was open. Either way, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, and said “What is that?” at which point the bat, figuring I suppose that since I had asked it to identify itself (a habit I picked up from my husband, the Air Weapons Controller who routinely asked for aircraft identification) did a fly by inches from my face.
I would like to say I handled it stoically, grabbed my children, put them behind me, and told the bat to skedaddle.
That’s would I would like to say.
In reality, I freaked, did some form of ancient Bat Dance and screamed at the top of my lungs. (I was doing a lot of musical theatre back then – I had great lungs).
Eventually the rational part of my brain kicked in, I assessed the situation, realized the bat was gone (do you blame it?) and my children were staring at me. My son had a yellow plastic baseball bat ready for action (I should have realized then he was going to be a Marine). My ever-practical daughter looked at me and said “Don’t worry, Mommy. We’ll protect you.”
There was nothing else to do but say thank you, give them a hug, and laugh.
And write about it, though I didn’t get around to that until we were in Japan and I had long rainy afternoons to fill while the children were napping and before my music students showed up (I taught piano and flute back then and was the Catholic Chapel choir director at the chapel on base).
I wrote the story – changing the location to a creepy, dark attic and the point of view to that of a brave five-year-old. The one thing I kept was the Bat Dance as that never failed to entertain the children.
I got a nice reply from Highlights – “Love the story, but the reaction to the bat is stereotypical.”
That was also the only true part of the story.
So I rewrote it. I don’t remember now what I changed it to, but they liked it.
The next letter from Highlights contained a congratulatory letter and a check.
It was cheaper to fly from Yokota Air Base, Japan to Osan Air Base, South Korea than to buy anything in downtown Tokyo, so when the seasons changed, off we went via Space A (space available on a C-130 – the best shopping plane in the world) to Korea.
Coming from Florida, I didn’t have a coat that would stand up to cold winters, so that was one of my objectives. A cashmere sweater was another. Even over there cashmere was on the expensive side (when contrasted with $7 sneakers and other inexpensive things). Hubby (God love him) insisted I buy two.
One of my favorite things about shopping in South Korea – everything was custom made. And as it turned out, there was a beautiful bolt of toasty warm brown cashmere right beside the sweater I was admiring.
“Make good coat,” the shop clerk said.
“It matches your eyes,” said Hubby.
I was afraid to ask how much. It was exactly the amount of that check from Highlights.
“Get it!” said Hubby.
Clearly, it was meant for me to have that coat.
I didn’t know about them sewing my name into the liner until I picked up the coat just before our flight back to Yokota.
“Is your coat. No one else’s,” said the little seamstress who had made it for me.
It was perfect.
All these years later, it’s still perfect. When I look at it, I don’t see a coat. I see two dreams realized (my first sale as a writer, and a beautiful custom made cashmere coat).
It doesn’t get trotted out much. Florida gets about 1-3 days a year when it’s actually cold enough to wear it, but I do. Most of the time it sits in my closet where it’s the first thing I see when I open the closet door and it never fails to remind me that I am a writer who has been paid for my work.
As it turns out, Highlights never did actually publish my story. In the congrats letter they said it would be scheduled for “sometime in the future” and they would let me know. I forgot about it until we moved back to the States. I sent them a note to update our address and inquired as to when they planned to publish it. The editor who bought it was gone and the new one promised to let me know.
A year or so later we moved again. I sent them a note updating our address and asked if they had published it and I missed it or when it might be scheduled.
This time I got a reply from the editor, Kent L. Brown, Jr. profusely apologizing for tying it up for so long and reverting the rights back to me.
My first thought was “Well, pooh.”
My second thought was “This would be a great picture book.”
I still think it would.
I just need to find it first.”