On Sunday night, my wife and I sat down to watch Dolly Parton’s Christmas Special. Quite honestly, we don’t normally watch a lot of network television. We usually watch movies or episodes of a series on Netflix. Earlier that afternoon, however, I was watching the New York Jets play the Las Vegas Raiders on CBS, and I saw a few commercials for Dolly’s show. When I mentioned the Special later to Barbara, she said, “Let’s watch it,” and so we did. By then, too, I needed a pick-me-up because my Jets had squandered a late lead and lost on a last-second, boneheaded, defensive play. (A blog post, perhaps, for another day.) I definitely needed something positive. Little did I know that one of Dolly’s songs would take me back to a pleasant memory from 50 years earlier, to my own version of that same song.
Dolly’s song tells the story of how when she was young, she needed a new coat for the coming winter, but with 12 children in the family, her mom couldn’t afford to just go out and buy one. As a result, she decided to make a coat for her daughter, something she had done for many of her children. At that point, though, she did not have enough cloth of one color to make a full coat, so, instead, she sifted through a pile of donated rags and fashioned a “Coat of Many Colors” for Dolly.
As Dolly’s mother sewed the material together with love, she told her daughter about a similar coat from a story in the Old Testament. Dolly’s lyrics describe her coat in this way: “Although we had no money, I was rich as I could be in my coat of many colors, my momma made for me.”
In the book of Genesis, Joseph, the son of Jacob, also had a coat of many colors. And while Jacob’s family, just like the Parton family, had a dozen children, Joseph’s special coat was not due to the family’s poverty. Rather, Jacob gave his son Joseph “a richly ornamented robe” because Joseph had “been born to him in his old age” as the first son of his second wife, his beloved Rachel (37:3–4). Thus, in both cases, a parent gives a special coat to a child. My mom did the same for me during the spring of 1965.
At the time, as an eighth grader at St. Mary’s Institute, we were required to wear a dress shirt, a tie, and a sport coat. And quite honestly, I already had a sport coat, a gray hand-me-down from my older cousin Richie. Yes, the coat was more than sufficient, though the sleeves might have been a tad short. But I really wanted a coat of many colors because all the cool kids in our class had madras sport coats, the rage at that time. I never asked for one, though, because I didn’t think it was possible
No, our family did not have a dozen children — only six. Still, a new madras jacket from Mortan’s in downtown Amsterdam was not in the budget. I’m pretty sure my dad was oblivious to my situation because he was working overtime to keep us all fed. Mom, though, knew what was happening, and she offered, like Dolly’s mom, to make me a madras jacket.
“Really?” I asked. “You can do that?”
Of course, she could. She had created many skirts and dresses for my five sisters, so I think she cherished the opportunity to create something special for her only son, her “Prince.”
And sure enough, she did so. She purchased a pattern and the material from the local sewing store, and within a week or two, I was proudly wearing my own special coat of many colors. Naturally, I wore that coat proudly in our class graduation photo, a photo, unfortunately, in black and white.
In Dolly’s story, her classmates laughed at her coat and made fun of her; Joseph, too, suffered because his ten older brothers were jealous of Joseph’s special treatment, and they, eventually, sold him into slavery.
I did not experience such negative reactions. If my friends even noticed that my sport coat was homemade, no one ever mentioned it to me, and I could not have been prouder. For like Dolly, “Now I know we had no money, but I was rich as I could be in my coat of many colors my momma made for me.” Thanks, Mom. I love you.