This is a story (true) about two women, two gifts, and a connecting thread of generosity. I think it’s worth sharing, if only because of coincidence.

Jean Jones and Loeta Horner had alot in common. They had tremendous grace and style. They were the type of women who could take an item off a clothing rack and drape it on their long, lean bodies and give it style that us “ordinary” people only dream about.

Loeta spent her working life in retail. She managed the French Room at Eaton’s in downtown Toronto back in the days when the items of clothing wrapped so carefully in tissue and boxed for wealthy shoppers cost more than a half a year’s income for a minimum wage sales girl. Loeta had an eye. Even in her late eighties she could size up a customer and select a hanger from a rack, its item perfectly suited in size, colour and style.

Jean had that same grace about her. Jean could assemble items in a way that gave them life. Her very soul was generous, giving and she lived with her hands outstretched to other people. When Jean Jones entered a room, even as an older woman, heads turned. I well remember at Jeans’ funeral a woman sitting behind me who sighed in admiration and memory... “She had style!”

Though these women were connected to Barrie in much the same way, they never met. But they are connected nonetheless. Loeta was in significance somewhere between my mother and my grandmother. My landlady at university, she stayed in my life. A spinster with a bevy of friends, she embodied a spirit unusual for her time. She was impulsively generous, the kind of person who would give $50 to a needy person at the bus terminal, and not be able to pay her own rent the next week. And as she aged, we kept her with us, moving her from Toronto to Barrie, from apartment to retirement to nursing home. She left us at age 88 in 1993.

Jean was the mother and mother-in-law of my friends Rick and Cheryl. Originally from England, she married Richard and centred her life on home and hearth with a graciousness that Martha Stewart would envy. Her times in Barrie centred around Rich and Cheryl and their family. She left us in 1995.

So...

Cheryl, my friend, arrived at my door one Sunday. I was bundled up in my ski suit, snowmobile boots, scarf, mitts, toque etc. We were taking the kids to the 1994 Santa Claus Parade. Cheryl, my friend, was wearing a fabulous, ankle-length black coat, a two piece affair with a woollen undercoat and a satin overcoat, hood, boots... the works.

I gasped! “You look incredible!”

“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” said Cheryl as she twirled around. She clearly loved her new coat.

“Where’s your hat?” I asked.

“I couldn’t afford the hat after I bought the coat,” she laughed.

Though she was already gone, Loeta’s heart took me to my own front hall closet. I opened a dresser drawer there and pulled out a hat I had kept from Loeta’s things. I don’t wear black, but this stunning hat wanted to stay with me and now I knew why. I looked at it, with its black fur trim and its sleek wrapping ties that formed to the neck. I held it out to Cheryl. She started to shake her head.

“Loeta would want you to have this,” I said. “If she were here this moment, she’d walk to this dresser and pull out this hat, and complete this marvellous winter outfit. She would position it on your head, tie it around your neck, stand back and be delighted that she’d had an influence in your sense of style. Take it please.”

So Cheryl topped off her celebration of winter and looking quite the opposite to each other we headed out for the Santa Claus Parade. I know that at that moment Loeta smiled.

A few years passed. My own celebration of winter took me to a wonderful gently used store in Toronto where I came across an equally marvellous white wool coat. It was spectacular and because it was second-hand, it was affordable. I put it on, tied up its waist cord, spun to see the back detail and decided I should have a dressy winter coat and bought it. It looked wonderful, and I found very practical white leather gloves to go with it!

Cheryl celebrated with me when we headed out the door one evening, me in my wonderful new white coat, she in her wonderful black coat and Loeta’s hat. Together we looked like a newspaper!

Meanwhile Jean Jones was doing battle with cancer and Cheryl was there to help, to listen, to care, to love. Jean died in March, 1995. And during a beautiful spring day in May, I went to Brighton to her memorial service, to say goodbye and to listen to friends applaud this remarkable woman.

Soon after, Cheryl arrived at our house. It was now warm. My coat was nestled next to the ski suits and rain jackets in the front hall closet.

“Get out your coat again. I just want to see it on you,” said Cheryl. I obeyed. I buttoned it up and swung around, wishing I could find white boots (an oxymoron, if ever there was one).

Cheryl smiled when I came back to face her.

“Jean wants you to have this,” she said. And in her hand she held a white, fur head piece, a circle of fluff. I put it on, like a crown. Cheryl pulled it lower on my face and smiled. I smiled. Jean and Loeta probably smiled, too.

And now, every winter, when I wear my wonderful coat for special events, I celebrate Loeta and Jean, who they were, who they remain, and who they are through the people they left behind. Every time I position that fur band on my head and smile out from underneath it, Jean Jones smiles back at me.

It’s just a story I thought you might enjoy knowing!

Thanks, Jean. Thanks, Loeta. And thanks, Cheryl.

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