A Spring Coat for Sarah
One winter-thawing morning in March, Sarah put on her old spring coat to go out and play.
These buttons don't work, Sarah said to Mama.
Why, Sarah, you've sprouted up like a primrose in spring! Mama said. "After your sisters leave for school, we'll check the hand-me-downs for a coat that fits."
When the house was quiet, Mama went to the hall closet and pulled out all the old spring coats. But ...
Sylvia's were too big, Susan's too stained, and Sally's too tattered . The coats were fine for play. But ...
Sarah has no coat for church and town and special occasions, Mama told Papa when he came in from the barn.
Papa sat down at the table. "The cows can't be milked till after thecalves are born," he said. "Are you sure Sarah can't wear a hand-me- down?"
It's either a new coat or a ragged coat, Mama said.
Papa frowned. He stared out at the empty calf pasture.
Mama said, "Sarah has never had a new coat."
For a long while nobody spoke. The fire in the wood stove crackled. The soup in the kettle sputtered .
At last Mama said, "Papa, how much can one small coat for our Sarah cost?"
Sarah looked closely at Papa.
Then Papa cleared his throat. "A ragged coat won't do," he said. "Sarah, are you old enough to take care of a new coat?"
Yes, Papa, Sarah said. "I'm old enough to do almost anything."
Papa gave her a serious look. "Very well," he said. "While we are in town today, we'll buy you a coat of your very own."
Later, after they had eaten the soup, Papa backed the old automobile out of the garage, and Mama and Sarah climbed in. Sarah sat in the back so she would feel older.
Papa drove past farms with muddy-brown barnyards, sheets flapping on clotheslines, sap buckets on every maple tree.
When they got to town, Papa parked their car. He put a penny in the meter, and they all went inside the store.
Inside was gloomy; racks of coats seemed to rustle and whisper like the bats that flew out of the barn at night.
A tall, skinny salesclerk in a black suit and bow tie sidled up to them. "May I assist you?" he asked.
Our Sarah needs a good coat, Papa said.
A spring coat for church and special occasions, Mama added.
Spring coat, you say? The clerk slipped a measuring tape from around his neck.
Stand tall, miss-sseee, he said, squatting to measure her.
Sarah stood very still.
Oh, dear, said the clerk. "Oh, dear, dear, dear." He wagged his head. "Small …"
The clerk gave a great sigh as he stood. "Small," he said again, as if Sarah were a very tiny toad. "In small we have chocolate, cerulean , and charcoal ."
But all Sarah could see were brown and blue and black coats. Nothing so wonderful as chocolate or cerulean.
We'll try the brown one, Mama said to the clerk.
The chocolate one it is, he said, whisking it off the hanger.
But it wasn't chocolate at all. It was muddy, barnyard brown. Sarah looked down at the oily wood floor.
Sarah, the clerk is waiting, Papa said.
Sarah slid her arms into the sleeves. The coat swallowed her up, devouring her hands. She stood in front of the mirror. "I look like a barnyard," she mumbled. Her chin began to quiver .
Perhaps the blue, said Mama, gently.
Cer-OO-lee-aan, the clerk corrected. But when he slid the blue coat from its hanger, there on the rack behind all of the dark coats, hidden like a spring flower in winter darkness, there, as if by magic, was a pink coat.
A pink coat! Sarah cried. "I want the pink coat."
That coat is smaller than the other ones, Papa said.
Sarah spoke up. "I'm small, too. The clerk said so. Papa, please let me try it on. Mama? Please?"
It wouldn't hurt to let her try it on, Mama said.
Without a word, the clerk took the coat from its hanger and held it for Sarah.
Ohhh! Sarah said. The coat was slippery and shiny inside like her sister Sylvia's blouses. "Ahhh!" The coat was softer than a new flannel nightgown. There was lace all around the collar, and by the top button, right under her chin, were flowers—tiny ones like the wild primroses that grew behind the woodshed.
Sarah stood very still and looked in the mirror. She stared for a very long time. In the pink coat she looked like a spring flower.
Sarah! Mama said.
Sarah looked up. Mama was standing behind her. She was holding the brown coat.
I'm afraid the pink coat will only fit one year, Mama said, taking a step closer.
And there's no one to pass it on to, said Papa.
And the clerk said, "It's wise to practice thrift and economy."
Sarah backed away. No one was going to turn her into an ugly barnyard again. She wanted to be a flower.
Sarah! It was Papa. He came over to her and knelt down. "You're old enough to know that you can't always have your own way," he said sternly.
Wise and true, said the clerk.
Sarah slipped one arm from a sleeve.
It is her color, though, Mama said.
Ahh, said the clerk. "Anyone can see how the pink of the coat brings out the roses in her cheeks."
It does have an ample hem and deep seams, Mama said. "Don't forget how good I am at taking down hems and letting out seams."
Papa looked thoughtful for a moment and rubbed his chin. He looked from the brown coat to the pink coat. "The cows will give milk soon enough," he said. "But how can we let Sarah wear a brown coat when she looks like a flower in this one?"
Papa! Sarah cried, slipping her arm back into the empty sleeve. She threw her arms around Papa's neck. "I do look like a flower, don't I?" she whispered.
Like a primrose in spring, Papa said.