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When a Coat is More Than Just a Coat. A Christmas Story.

Dianne shares a story from her childhood,

through the eyes of her eight-year-old self.

It was cold, drizzly, and foggy. The night seemed darker than usual with fog obliterating the moon and stars above. It was an empty feeling, being all alone in the mist, even if you really weren't. Bouncing along in the old work truck, Dad and I headed toward the Farm Labor Camp, where some of Dad’s farm workers chose to live year-round.

We drove slowly, snaking along the twists and turns of the river, the road unfolding in the fog. Suddenly I saw some lights ahead. Lining the street were little, tiny houses. They were very small and didn't look like the ones on Sheldon Avenue where I lived. They had flat roofs and no front lawns to play flag football on or flowers that the dog got in big trouble for laying in. Dad said most of them were just one room and that many had concrete floors with no carpet.

There were no Christmas lights sparkling around the windows and I didn't see any Christmas trees, either. Each house looked the same to me, but I hoped that Santa could tell them apart on Christmas Eve. Dad pulled to a stop at a house that looked no different than any of the others.

He took out two big grocery bags filled with homemade bread, Christmas cookies decorated with sprinkles, homemade canned peaches, and applesauce. There were candy canes, popcorn balls, and Mom's homemade fudge and wrapped presents peeking out from the top. Dad grabbed both bags in one hand in his other arm he carried a turkey.

I was surprised to see little kids answer the door. The workers at the farm were all men and for some reason, I hadn't considered that they could be brothers, husbands, and dads. I tried to hear what was going on, but I forgot they would be speaking Spanish. They greeted "Mauricio" brightly and ushered him into their little house.

People milled about inside, dark silhouettes in the windows. I heard laughter and the squeal of little kids. I said a prayer that the house had more than one room with a nice, thick carpet like ours at home.

Dad emerged, dark-haired little kids hanging on his legs, giggling and happy. A man came out and peeled the kids off Dad's legs and arms, their voices a Christmas melody in the night air. The man rubbed his hands together and shivered in the cold.

That's when it happened. Dad pulled his arms out of his big winter coat and extended the coat to the man who I realized wasn't wearing one.

The man refused.

Dad wrapped his arms around him and placed the coat on his shoulders. He touched his rough hand gently to the man's cheek before turning away. "Thank you, Mauricio!" I heard the man call out in English. "Feliz Navidad!"

We drove in silence.

"You gave him your coat," I finally said, turning toward him. "What are you going to do when you go outside to work?" I was worried. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich either.

Dad flashed one of his smiles like the ones I saw in the Gridley Herald when the car dealership had an ad that said, "See Morrie for a new car!" He had very nice teeth, straight and even which was good, because he never could have had braces because he grew up during the depression.

"I guess we'll have to ask Santa to bring me a new one." He winked and I could tell he was pleased.

When I got home, I wrote Santa a letter. On Christmas Eve I folded it and put it beside Santa's milk and fudge with a big sign that said "URGENT." Luckily, Santa must have read it.

Dad got a new coat for Christmas.

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