Disclaimer: I appreciate that fur, leather, or (as in this case), animal hide is not for everyone. As you’ll read below, this coat is at least second hand. I have been thinking lately about how weird it is that we farm living creatures for our consumption, but even if I eventually moved towards vegetarianism, I would still keep this coat. I think this post will explain why.
Long ago, I read a book called Winter of Fire, by Sherryl Jordan. The book was published in 1994, and I must have read it for the first time not long after. I read that book over and over again, and I remember Sherryl Jordan coming to my school to talk to us about writing the book.
20 years later, I can still remember her comment on the cover design – which, as I recall, she hadn’t chosen – that the costume worn by Elsha didn’t make any sense. Elsha lives in a borderline apocalyptic world where there is no sunlight coming through the permanent smog and cloud, and so should be dressed in clothes that reflect the fact it’s freezing cold and that there’s limited resources. Instead, she’s wearing a coat that looks as if it’s made of some kind of semi-rigid satin. Ever since then, I’ve imagined Elsha in hides and wool, and when I saw this coat in Savemart, I knew it was my Elsha coat made real.
Reading Winter of Fire was probably the first time I thought about gender roles, the impact of class, segregation and environmentalism. I read it and felt anger, despair, and joy. It made me think about the possibility of belief, about God, and it was written in a way that lifted me up, stretched me into new thoughts, and kept me engaged in a story that was in every way a fantasy, but full of reality for a teen-aged me.
The power of a book for a teenage girl is immeasurable. Books are, at their core, a way to live somewhere else. Each one educates you, whether you want it to or not. I absolutely believe that the stories I read throughout my childhood and early adulthood helped to form my view of the world, because what is human existence if not the ultimate in subjective story-telling? Sherryl Jordan clearly agrees with me - Storylines says she "believes that the truth of the imagination is the foundation of good fantasy, and that fantasy is a training ground for the lateral thinkers, inventors and philosophers of the future".
There have been other books throughout my life that have resonated in me ever since. What Katy Did caused me to reflect on the importance of caring about others regardless of what challenges your own life holds, and I still return to it now to remember the words of Cousin Helen:
For you know we never do people good by lecturing; only by living their lives with them, and helping a little here and a little there to make them better.
I can vividly remember reading this part of the book and the strength of emotion I felt, as Helen’s description of a loving heart and patient devotion to others put into words one of my most important values. I still strive (and, unfortunately, consistently fail!) to live up to the example set to me by this fictional woman.
I read Light Years by James Salter when I was in my early teens, and although I was too young really, it taught me then about how beautiful and evocative language can be. My God, the writing in this book is incredible. Read it, even if only on your Kindle. He writes in this book:
The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers. She was excited, filled with strength. The polished sentences had arrived, it seemed, like so many other things, at just the right time. How can we imagine what our lives should be without the illumination of the lives of others?
James Salter remains a favourite writer, and every time I read Light Years I see something new in it. The complexity of the relationships in that book grows as I grow older, and understand more about the nature of people.
I still own the same copy of Winter of Fire that I was given more than 20 years ago, and I’ll read it again this winter so I can watch Elsha once again grow from a Quelled girl in a shabby tent. And she will remind me, like she did when I was small:
There is a right time for all things.
Life brings with it challenges, big and small. I don’t know who had this coat before me, or how it came to be on a rail marked at $24.99, but Elsha’s coat carries a meaning with it that goes beyond being warm and dry for a bargain price. And that’s why I’ll keep this coat, forever.
A reader recently asked if I credit my outfits - y'all know I am inconsistent at best. Many of the things I wear are vintage, second hand, or just old enough to no longer be available. I will credit where I can though! Coat: Savemart. Boots: about 7 years old from, I think, Shoe Connection. Shirt: Forever New. Jumper: Lonely Label. Jeans: Levi's 721s - the best.