Monday, October 30, 2006

MemoryLane: The Fur Coat

As many of you know, I was born and raised in San Francisco.
For the first 18 years, I lived with my family (6 count) in a flat on Mason Street (cross Pacific), 3 blocks up from Grant Avenue (aka Dupont Gai), and a world away from the hustle and bustle of shopping, restaurants and crowds in Chinatown. Just about every day, we'd venture down three steep hills (and back up again!) to C-Town for food and entertainment. Though we didn't reside right in the heart of it, we were pretty darn close to Chinatown proper (great photo gallery in this link!). (Mom & her Family of Origin did live in the heart, but that's another story for another day).

In the 50's/ 60's before it expanded its boundaries a bit, Grant Avenue was Chinatown. Bordered by Broadway on the north and Bush Street on the south, t'was my 'hood. For all intent and purposes, I be a dyed-in-the-wool 'Chinatown Kid'.

The 3-story, 6 unit building we lived in was built long before central heating. No steam heat radiators either. The two mini gas faux fireplaces didn't work. In the winter (come to think of it, all year round), it was often quite c-o-l-d in the house. Most of the time, the family gathered in the kitchen which was kept warm by all the home cooking. The rest of the flat could get downright chilly. This was when I learned to dress and undress under the bedcovers to stay warm!

Dad did manage to rig up a large portable gas burning heater in the center of our long hallway, and we'd huddle in front of it for a blast of heat each night before heading off to the cold of our bedrooms. Once we got good and toasty, we'd scurry off to jump right into bed where we did our best to retain the heat. Each cold night was a bit like winter camping...indoors.

Besides the gas heater offering warmth, there was - The Fur Coat.

It belonged to Mom though I don't recall her ever wearing it. She acquired it back in the day when furs were de rigueur for any well-dressed woman (who could afford one). Waaaay before animal protection and all that good stuff.
At any rate, I believe Mom inherited The Fur Coat from a friend or relative. It was a bit of hand-me-down luxury which she could not have afforded on her own, particularly at this time of her life.

I'd almost completely forgotten about The Fur Coat until I posted about Mom's Jell-O and got the MemoryLane-machine goin'. The Fur Coat holds a very special place in the chronicles/anecdotes of my 'Growing up San Francisco', so is definitely worth a mention...

Much like the one pictured, The Fur Coat was a 3/4 length number, made of squirrel pelts, reddish brown in color and lined in matching satin. I remember the fur being oh-so-minky soft. The thing was really quite beautiful. When The Fur Coat came into my life, it was as a bed covering rather than a garment. On those extra-chilly nights, my two brothers and I would fight over who got The Fur Coat as an extra blanket to snuggle under. Sometimes Mom would even get a chance to use it. On rare occasions, someone would wear it as a robe. How ironic to be living in an unheated rental flat on the outskirts of Chinatown, and wearing what was once a high fashion fur coat as a bathrobe.

My most vivid memory of The Fur Coat is a tactile one: I loved 'petting' it and found comfort in its silky softness. Our landlord forbid us tenants from keeping furry pets (though we did have goldfish, turtles and a canary or two).

No worries - because, hey, we had The Fur Coat.
It took care of so many needs.

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