My mom's fur coat had been hanging in my front closet ever since I moved her out to California six months before she died. When we want to get our very seldom-used cold weather coats out, we push it to the right, and when we want to get our luggage out from the crawl space in the back of the closet, we push it to the left. We have been pushing that coat back and forth for 10 years, without even noticing it... without me ever wearing it.
When the time came for us to relocate to the East Coast and for me to start purging, I finally had to take the muskrat by the tail, so to speak, and deal with the fur coat. My husband thought I might take it with me, after all, winters in Boston are mighty cold, and "lots of people there wear fur."
"No way," I said.
Even though I had nothing against wearing vintage, that black Persian lamb coat with the wide gray and black beaver cuffs was too big, too old-fashioned and too much REAL FUR!
It would be very hypocritical of me to claim I was bent on making an ethical statement, since I have no compunction about wearing leather shoes and jackets. And I would never scoff at a gift of the latest Miu Miu tote, but I would never be caught wearing a fur coat in public... well, aside from that time during a winter vacation in NYC. I had borrowed a friend's beautiful parka, never thinking that the "fur" around the hood was real until a group of PETA members surrounded me on Fifth Avenue and followed me down the street yelling,
"Bimbo in fur, bimbo in fur!"
(Boy, did my kids and my niece get a kick out of that one. Thank goodness none of them were old enough to have iPhones at the time, as I'm sure the video would have been an overnight sensation on YouTube.)
My mom's coat represented so many things to me; so much of her personality and my childhood were wrapped up in that coat. I can remember the feel of the curly fur as I would sink my face into it. And the fur cuffs made me laugh as I would brush them across my nose when Mom wasn't looking. The black and white paisley silk lining was chosen specifically for her. She had a matching scarf that she draped around her neck and tucked in, just so. So valuable was the coat, I believed, that her name was hand-embroidered on the lining in a fabulous scrolled font: "Blanch." It was hers and only hers -- and in case some mistaken soul should try to abscond with it from any of the various coat check rooms she hung it in, her personal ID was there for all to see.
Back in those days, it was de rigueur for my mother's friends to own a fur... in fact, many of them had many such coats. Their furriers were treated as members of the family (what 5-year-old even knows the word "furrier" these days?!?) My mother had her own furrier, and he treated her almost as regally as he treated her coat. And when the weather grew warmer, Mom's coat, like all good fur coats, went on a paid vacation to "summer camp," otherwise known as cold storage. (Didn't everyone's?)
The coat for Mom was not just something that kept her incredibly warm, it was a symbol of prosperity and stature. A grand statement and a fierce slap in the face of those shadowy, haunting bogeymen and women who tried to vanquish her flame during the Holocaust. She had made it to Hell and back, and now she had the fur coat as proof of that emergence. The ethical aspect of wearing fur did not hold a candle to the ethical dilemma I dealt with when deciding what to do with the darn coat. How could I get rid of something that represented my mother's battle cry of defiance?
I've come across quite a few letters that were written by daughters who have wrestled with similar predicaments as my own. One woman had her mother's coat made into a jacket so she could keep her mom's embroidered name intact. Another mentioned that she found an animal preserve that uses old fur coats as bedding for rescued weasels and beavers. A theater lover donated her coat to be used on stage during period plays.
I like all those ideas, although I can't say Mom would be too thrilled to know some old beaver was sleeping on Blanch's pelt. I have to admit when push came to shove, the coat went into a storage facility with the rest of our things. And there it hangs, once again, its future in question. Knowing someone on "Mad Men" was wearing her coat would probably make her happy, but I know my mother would rather I just keep it as a memento. And I just might... but really, I don't need the actual coat to remember... the memories I have of her are already embedded in my mind.
Does anyone else have a fur coat they inherited? We'd like to know what you've done with it... comment below!
Follow Mindy Trotta on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@mindytrotta