THE RED JACKET
“By 1948 the world had got pretty much back to normal, or as normal as it was going to get with the Russians lurking around every corner. All the men who went off to war had come home, at least those that were coming home; they bought new homes with mortgages, went to school on the GI bill, had kids, joined the Masons, purchased new cars with car payments, and gave their wives Mixmasters for Christmas. I was ten and the world looked pretty promising.
“One day, Todd, my friend, came by on his bicycle and said, ‘Come on let’s go down to Albertson’s Department Store there’s this neat jacket in the window’. I asked my mother if I could go, and off we went. And there it was in the window: a red jacket with white stripes down the sleeves made out of this silky stuff. And, on the back was the sign for The Chicago Cubs, my baseball team. I wanted that jacket. It cost ten dollars. I rode home as fast as I could and asked my mother if I could have ten dollars to buy that jacket. It was so neat. My mother said, ‘Honey, we just can’t spend ten dollars right now, and it doesn’t sound like a jacket that your little sister could wear when you out grow it’. Nearly my entire wardrobe was ‘hand me downs’ from my cousins; I only got new clothes at Christmas when I wanted a bicycle or something. I just had to have that jacket. Wow, the Chicago Cubs!
“At the beginning of summer my dad would give me two dollars and tell me it was for spending money, and I had to share it with my sister. Mostly we would spend it at the ice cream truck that came around each day. You could get a big ice cream bar for just a nickel. So the two dollars would last us most of the summer. But this summer my dad gave me my two dollars and shook my hand just like a grown up then turned around and gave my sister two dollars too. On one hand that was a good thing because I didn’t have to share my two dollars with my little sister, but why should she get two dollars. She was only six years old. She should only get, maybe, seventy five cents. But I was glad I had two dollars for the jacket, and only eight more to go.
“But how was I going to get eight dollars. That was a lot of money. I thought maybe I could go around the neighborhood and see if anyone needed any help with the yard or something like that. Then one Wednesday I was sitting on the curb in front of our house when this guy named Raymond came by and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was trying to figure out some way to make some money. Then he said, ‘I’ll give you a dollar if you sit right here and watch for Mr. Clark’, the Clarks lived just down the street from us. He told me that I was to watch for Mr. Clark, and when I saw him, I was to run up to the door at the Clarks and yell that Mr. Clark was coming home. And for that I would get a dollar.
“I sat right there on that curb, and Mr. Clark never came home. A while later Raymond came out of the alley and gave me a dollar. Now I had three dollars. I only needed seven more. I did this for the next two Wednesdays and got a dollar each time. Now I had five dollars. I was half way to wearing that neat jacket.
“Then on the third Wednesday while I was sitting there reading a comic book waiting to get my dollar from Raymond, I saw Mr. Clark’s car turn at the corner and come up the street. I shut that comic book and ran to the Clark’s house opened the screen door and yelled, ‘Mr. Clark is coming home’. Then I went back to the curb and waited for Raymond to come with my dollar.
“I waited and waited and Raymond didn’t come. So I got up and walked back to the alley to see if I could get my dollar. I found Raymond there behind a big bush. He didn’t have any clothes on. I asked him if I could have my dollar because that would give me six dollars and the jacket cost ten dollars. He told me that if I went to the Clark’s front door Mrs. Clark would give me a package. Then he would give me two dollars. I ask him if that was one regular dollar and another dollar or was that one regular dollar and two other dollars. He told me that he would give me my regular dollar and then another two dollars. Man, that was three dollars. That would give me eight dollars. Only two to go.
“I knocked on the Clark’s front door and Mrs. Clark came to the door carrying a big package. She handed me the package and kind of looked over her shoulder and said kind of loud that I was to take this to my mother. She handed me a dollar too. Now this was something. I didn’t know if this was one of Raymond’s dollars or not or If this was a whole ‘nother dollar. If it was a whole ‘nother dollar that would give me nine dollars. Wow, only one dollar to go.
“So I ran quickly to our house and gave my mother the package. She looked kind of surprised, but I didn’t care I was going to get three dollars for picking it up.
“I ran back to the bush in the alley and told Raymond that I got the package from Mrs. Clark and took it to my mother just like she said. He got real mad at me. I asked him if I could still have my three dollars, because I took the package to my mother just like Mrs. Clark said. He told me he would give me four dollars if I would help him find a sheet or a blanket on a clothesline along the alley. I told him I would rather just have my three dollars now. He got mad again.
“So, I walked along the alley looking into the back yards, and I saw some sheets hanging on the Sharp’s clothesline. I went to the house and asked Mrs. Sharp if Raymond could borrow a sheet. She just laughed and said that she needed all of her sheets. So, I walked along the alley some more and found an old blanket by the Frank’s trash can. I took it to Raymond, and he wrapped it around himself and ran down the alley. I ran after him asking if I could have my four dollars now. But he just kept running out of our neighborhood where I wasn’t allowed to follow him.
“I wanted my four dollars. That’s ten dollars I could get that neat jacket. Then I got an idea. Maybe Mr. or Mrs. Clark would help me get the four dollars since that’s where Raymond visited. He must have been a real good friend of theirs. Maybe they would pay me the four dollars then they could get it back from Raymond.
“I knocked on the Clark’s door and Mr. Clark opened the door. I explained to him, ’on Wednesdays Raymond would pay me a dollar to tell him when you were coming home but you didn’t come home except for today and I ran to the door and hollered just like I was supposed to because you were coming home but today he must have lost his clothes because he was in the alley behind a bush and he had promised to pay me four dollars to get him a sheet off a clothesline but Mrs. Sharp said she needed hers so I found a blanket by the Franks’ trashcan and gave it to Raymond who was still behind the bush he took the blanket and ran down the alley but I couldn’t follow him because I wasn’t allowed to go that far and since you and Mrs. Clark were friends of Raymond could you help me get my four dollars because there was this jacket at Albertson’s Department Store that Todd showed me and it had the Chicago Cubs on the back and the Chicago Cubs was my favorite baseball team’. Mr. Clark looked real mad. He hollered ‘Gladys’ and slammed the door.
“I never did get that four dollars. Todd and I rode down to Albertsons Department Store and looked at the jacket again. You know, it was a crummy jacket anyway”.