But wait! Hiding behind its permanently stuck left door, there were two coats which were obviously a cut above the rest of the wardrobe's tatty contents. For the sake of this story, let’s call them Leopard Coat and Green Coat.
These coats obviously hadn’t belonged to the boy. There was a certain dignity about them, which set them apart from the chaos surrounding them. They had been there for many, many years. In fact, they had been there for so long that they didn’t exactly remember how they had ended up there.
While they usually rubbed along just fine, this was a bone of contention between them. One said that they were put there for safekeeping by the nice lady who used to live in the house, while the other insisted that it was the boy himself who’d sneaked them up there to be used as some kind of fancy dress. Thankfully, this never happened, as they were both far too small for the boy.
Once in a blue moon, voices resounded in the hallway below, the attic’s ladder was pulled down and someone proceeded to climb it. Up, up, the footsteps came, the ladder creaking ominously under the climber’s weight.
The coats clutched each other in fear. While living locked up in the darkness wasn’t exactly a bed of roses, the thought of their eventual freedom wasn’t an entirely reassuring one either. They’d heard rumours that old, discarded clothes were often put inside black bin liners and brought to places where, if they didn't pass muster, they were cut into rags, after which they would almost certainly end up in landfill. In fact, one day the boy had taken Leopard Coat away and tried to sell her in a second hand shop. They'd taken one look inside the bag she was in and, shaking their heads regretfully, had sent her and the boy away. Leopard Coat had been very upset for weeks afterwards.
It was a lonely life inside the wardrobe and, with only each other for company, they tried to keep up their spirits by telling each other their life stories.
More often than not, it was Leopard Coat who regaled Green Coat with stories of her glamorous past. If pressed, she would admit to looking slightly down her nose at Green Coat, who was, after all, just an ordinary coat and not a fur. One thing they had in common, though: they were both made to measure.
From l to r: Josephine, the girls' mother Angelica, an unknown lady, and
Leontine, who was my paternal grandmother
Leopard Coat's owner had been Josephine, who went by the name of Finneke. Born in 1915 into a working class family, she was the youngest of three, with a brother, Charles and a sister, Leontine. The sisters, who often wore matching dresses when they were girls, were quite close, even after Leontine, who went by the name of Tinneke, married an ordinary factory worker called Louis.
Josephine (second from left) and Leontine (far right) in the mid 1930s.
The little boy is my Dad.
Joseph and Josephine on their wedding day in 1936.
On the right is their wedding booklet.
On the right is their wedding booklet.
This album also contained a photograph of Josephine wearing Leopard Coat's ancestor.
My parents in the mid 1950s
Alice was beautiful, gentle and had the patience of a saint. Well, she must have had, being married to Alphonse, and having a rebellious elder daughter, Ann!
Suffering from rheumatism from a very early age, she was often in pain, which must have been very debilitating, but still she uncomplainingly kept house and looked after her children. By the time Green Coat came upon the scene in the late 1960s, there were two children, and soon there would be a third.
My parents on their wedding day in 1957, and my Mum with me, late 1961
Green Coat was made by a local seamstress, a single mother struggling to make ends meet, who lived in a downstairs apartment a couple of streets away.
Alice's generation wasn't in the habit of taking the bus into town whenever they needed something new to wear, and shopping as a pastime was practically unheard of. Instead, whenever Alice was in need of a garment for a special occasion, she went to the seamstress, sometimes bringing a pattern she'd found in one of her mother-in-law's magazines. This was duly discussed with the seamstress, material and buttons were chosen and ultimately the garment was made.
A favourite photo of my Mum at my sister's Christening in 1971
with me in pigtails, aged nine going on ten
But for some reason Alice didn't wear Green Coat all that much. Did she regret her choice of colour? Did she keep it for best and weren't there all that many occasions for wearing her best coat? The fact is that Green Coat had felt quite neglected. It was nothing short of a miracle that she was still around and in fact the only reason she wasn't given to charity after Alice sadly passed away was because she was up in the attic wardrobe!
One day, the coats could hear voices again. Alice's three children had discovered Josephine's photo album and the eldest daughter, the one called Ann, had been admiring Leopard Coat's ancestor.
Leopard Coat, meanwhile, was in seventh heaven, as Ann tried her on, and then took her to a lovely new home, where she shared wardrobe space with many other garments saved by her new owner.
Fast forward almost two years later. Green Coat was still pining away in the attic wardrobe.
For the last couple of weeks, there had been rummaging noises in the rooms downstairs and finally the moment arrived when footsteps once again climbed the attic stairs.
Ever since Leopard Coat's disappearance, the wardrobe's key had been lost, but in the end Ann's handy husband was able to open its doors, revealing Green Coat in all its glory. Ann shed some tiny tears upon spying in, especially since it turned out to be a perfect fit.
Since that day, Green Coat has been reunited with Leopard Coat, sharing wardrobe space again, but safe in the knowledge that there won't be any black bin liners for them any time soon.