Casting Off the Winter Vest (A Story to Welcome Spring)


tulipsThe wind at North and East
Was never good for man nor beast
So never think to cast a clout
Until the month of May be out
(Old English Proverb)

Spring is my favourite season. I love it when the grass turns from brown to green overnight and the tender shoots of the first daffodils begin to peek through the soil. Even better are the first truly warm days when the bulbs are in full bloom, the sun is shining and everyone seems to be outside, drinking it in after the long winter. At the first chance I can I like to pack away the winter coats, hats and gloves, and enjoy the opportunity to go outdoors without them.

In some ways I like the IDEA of winter, I like the cold, clear days when the snow is crisp and clean, and the weather is not too cold to go for a trudge walk. But after a while the need to wear a big heavy coat and three layers of sweaters before going outside, the frozen flesh warnings, and the task of driving on ice, start to grate on me and I have had enough. The need to even have to consider keeping snacks, a blanket and a shovel in your car “just in case” and the long, dark evenings get to me by about January 10. So the first signs of Spring are welcome, and met with a lightening of the heart and the joyful anticipation of casting aside the winter garments once again.

But no matter how enthusiastically I consign my winter coat to the back of the closet each Spring, it will never compare with the UTTER JOY with which my sister and I welcomed Spring back in the day. We didn’t grow up experiencing bitterly cold, snowy winters—but we had to contend with Winter Vests. Mine was mustard colored, and my sister’s was orange. They were thick-knit tank-top like things that my Granny made for us out of leftover, itchy wool. Left over from what??? We shuddered to think. The Winter Vest was dragged out by my mother at the first hint of a cold morning, usually sometime in October. Once they came out resistance was futile, she would make us wear them on top of a cotton T-shirt or vest, and under our other clothes, until Spring came.

The Winter Vest could be hated on many levels. First and foremost, it was an excellent girth enhancer, adding at least 3 inches of bulk around the waist, and looking lovely under our white school shirts. Secondly, being wool, it was itchy and hot! Granted we had to stand outside waiting for the school bus, and were occasionally out during the day, but we had coats, normal sweaters and heated buildings, so we couldn’t understand why we needed the vests as well. One of my mother’s fears was that at some time we might “catch our death of cold”, and so the Winter Vest brought the warmth of a layer of wool as extra insurance. Thirdly, they were a gift from Granny, and so could not be easily got rid of without offence. My sister resorted to subterfuge, removing her vest surreptitiously on occasion. I was too afraid of getting caught without mine, and so endured. But we both complained volubly at the first glimpse of mustard wool in my mothers hand as the colder weather approached.

The first Spring day wasn’t a good enough reason to take off the vest, but it was a sign that it was time to begin the negotiation process that would eventually result in it’s removal. My mother would quote the old saying “Never cast a cloot ‘til May is oot”, as scientific evidence that it was unsafe to remove any item of extra clothing before the end of May, and we would beg for relief while pointing out the window at the watery Spring sunshine as often as possible until she began to waver and could be convinced that the vests could possibly be removed without risk.

Recently I asked my sister if she remembered her Winter Vest. “Of course. How could I forget it?”, she cried, with only a trace of the old vest-associated panic creeping into her voice. Perhaps as she and I welcome each Spring and joyfully consign our winter coats to the closet every year, part of our enthusiasm is still fuelled by the memory of the Winter Vest.

5 thoughts on “Casting Off the Winter Vest (A Story to Welcome Spring)

  1. Isobel, I love this story. My mom had a May date of her own that she enforced during my childhood and teen years–No shorts until May 1. Never mind that in Georgia it could be 80 degrees F in the middle of February. By May 1 all my friends had nice, healthy looking tans, while my legs looked like they had just emerged from a bag of White Lilly flour.

  2. Yes. It’s funny how these things that were uncomfortable at the time are funny now! In our family we also laugh when we remember how we had to take cod liver oil in the winter–neat no capsules. That was bad.

  3. Kurt doesn’t like to wear vests. He said for his body shape he would need the inverse of a vest: a garment with just sleeves. 🙂

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