Today I heard Dolly Parton’s beautiful song Coat of Many Colors, and once again it brought back a cherished memory of my childhood.
My mother was the single parent of three girls and a boy. We lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Mama worked as a waitress. I was the youngest, just 3 years old when she got a divorce from our abusive, alcoholic father.
Mama found it so hard to keep a roof over our heads that in 1945 she moved us out to the country, where she had two brothers to help her make ends meet. We lived near Jonesboro in shotgun houses on the Tulot and Judd Hill plantations. In the winter, howling winds and snow crept through the cracks of our houses; in the summer, Mama had to shoo flies away from the food.
Mama and my teenage siblings, Alice and Jim, did all they could to plant, hoe, pick and pull cotton bolls from the hard, unyielding ground. Of course, the only clothes we had were hand-me-downs, or maybe a pretty handmade flour sack dress and panties.
When I was 8 years old, my wonderful aunt from Little Rock came to visit. She was very small and gave me an old coat of hers with a lovely wine-colored satin lining. Mama took the lining from the coat and, by hand, sewed me a beautiful little dress with two rows of lace down the front.
I was so proud of that dress—and when the teacher of our two-room schoolhouse said it was the prettiest dress she had ever seen, I was even more thrilled.
When we had school pictures taken that year, Mama pulled my hair back and dressed me in my satin dress. To this day, I don’t know where the money came from to buy the pictures. But I still smile and occasionally shed a tear when I look at that picture and remember how I loved that dress made from a coat lining.
By Nita Lynn-Zahn, Shreveport, Louisiana