In May of 1960, I turned twenty-one, old enough to vote. At last! (Yes, in those days, you had to be twenty-one to vote.)
After leaving work on my birthday, I rode the ancient ferry back across Humboldt Bay. Standing at the aft of the vessel, a fresh breeze ruffled my hair and salted my lips.
Moored at the dock, the captain blew an extra long, ear-splitting blast on the horn. He waved his hand out the perpetually open wheelhouse window and shouted, “Happy Birthday, Judy!” I waved to him and smiled my sparkling twenty-one-year-old smile.
On land, I climbed into my 1950 Plymouth and headed straight for Daly’s Department Store to check the status of the royal blue velvet coat I’d been watching for several weeks. If it was still there on this special day, I’d know it was meant for me.
With great trepidation, I climbed the stairs to the second floor and walked to the coat section at the back of the Women’s Department. And there it was. I tried it on one more time. The blue velvet was so bright, so royal, and oh so soft. I paid the cashier and decided to wear my new coat home.
As I glided down the wide staircase, a fan of blue velvet followed. Back on the first floor, I wafted past a full rack of spring dresses. Stage whispers between two half hidden clerks drifted into my ears.
“Just look at her. She thinks she is so great, but she’s too short for that coat. It’s made for someone taller. Like me.”
“Yeah. It looked much better on me, too. It’s practically dragging on the ground. I bet she slams the tail of it in the car door.”
My chin jerked up. A slight frown appeared between my brows. With my head tilted back, I looked down my long nose and marched straight ahead and out the double glass doors.
When I got into my car, I arranged the coat neatly to eliminate creases in the beautiful velvet. I slammed the door shut, but only after having made sure the coat did not hang out the opening.
Mother and my two youngest sisters were making my birthday dinner, so I stopped only briefly to twirl for my grandmother. She fondled the Royal Blue Velvet and made all the proper “oooh” and “aaah” exclamations.
Carefully, for the second time, I arranged my new coat around me before the hurried drive home.
I made sure my entrance was attended by announcing in dulcet tones, clearly audible to the neighbors, “Hello-oo! I’m ho-ome!” In a tight little group, the ladies emerged from the kitchen. I twirled.
My sisters gasped, clapped their hands and crowded around to feel the rich fabric. Mother stood just inside the doorway, her hands on her ample hips.
“You’re much too short for that coat. You’re gonna drag it on the ground, and you’ll probably slam it in the car door.”