A 1918 ad for mink products from Detroit store Herman and Ben Marks
A 1918 ad for mink products from Detroit store Herman and Ben Marks

My mother’s minks: Her pelts are my punishment

My mother was pro-mink. She believed fur symbolized luxury, style, wealth and to the manor born. Not me. I was decidedly anti-fur. I grew up in a cloth-coat, pea- jacket, egalitarian world.

My mother wasn’t alone in her love of fur. Jews and fur go way back. In the 18th century, Eastern European Jews dominated the fur trade. In America, mink and such were signs of assimilation and success.

“A fur coat symbolized American’s bounty and beauty,” wrote Jenna Weissman Joselit in “A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character, and the Promise of America.” “In homes across the nation, especially those inhabited by immigrants and their children, the purchase of a fur coat was … material evidence of America’s blessings.”

I managed to escape fur until my late 20s. But when I was D.C.-bound for an exciting new job, I received an insurance settlement from a leg injury, my mother pounced.

She dragged 29-year-old me into Saks Fifth Avenue’s fur salon, where cringing and groaning, I tried on fur coat after fur coat. In the end, she and a well-coiffed, beguiling saleswoman cajoled me into buying an admittedly fetching mink cape. For some reason, the cape was left in the store overnight for pickup the next morning.

That night, I had vivid nightmares of baby minks being captured and clubbed, screaming my name as they took their last little bloody breaths. I called Saks at 9:01 a.m. to cancel the purchase. Then, at 9:07, I called Mom to proclaim my Mink and Maternal Independence Day. On that second call, with the wisdom of a talmudic scholar, I noted the multiple biblical exhortations against cruelty toward animals.

Later that day, proudly independent, I purchased a wildly impractical snow-white wool coat. The coat spent more time at the cleaners than it did on my back.

Little did I know Mom’s furry revenge was yet to come.

When she died, she bequeathed to me her four furs — a coat, two jackets and a stole.

One jacket, I gave to my mother’s sister, my Aunt Ev. So, that was a guilt-free give-away. Mom’s silver fox stole, I donated to a well-respected charity, which annually conducted a high-society, fur-coat auction fundraiser, so I dodged the guilt bullet again.

Jews and fur go way back.

Then I wore the other mink jacket on one night out, and a friend quickly smirked, “Oh, somebody’s wearing a Mom jacket.”

For four years each spring, I dutifully schlepped the two remaining furs to Neiman-Marcus for “winterization” and storage. And for four years each fall, I dragged them out of storage, under no illusion that I would wear them in the non-blistery wintery non-cold of Las Vegas where I was living.

Finally, I swore, “Enough is enough.” I was done with the schlepping, the guilt, and the wasted storage and winterization cost. I was determined to molt the minks.

I called the charity that held the annual fur auction. They were no longer conducting the auction. Too much anti-fur controversy. Mink was out. Ermine and sable were taboo.

Online sales didn’t seem an easy option. So, what to do?

Belatedly, I thought of my best friend in NYC. Surely, she would welcome the coats.

But Laura declined the offer, saying she was already multiply minked, thanks to her own deceased mom.

She was also aghast that I was considering deep-sixing Mom’s minks. She reminded me that I was a New Yorker at heart, and that the day would come when we two would be slow-moving old ladies, hobbling on our walkers to Broadway shows on cold blustery days.

It was an unpleasant but unassailable truth. Thanks to my friend’s wisdom, I saw the fur-coated light. I needed mink.

I resolved to get Mom’s massive, unfashionable coat restyled. It was a guilt-free decision. It wasn’t like I was killing new animals. The minks that made up my coat had sacrificed their lives decades before. I was simply giving those lost little lives renewed purpose. I was, in fact, honoring the environmentalist creed of re-use and recycle!

So, that’s what I did. The fur was “shaved” and is now on the inside of a stylish fabric coat that is chic and toasty warm. Plus, as a bonus, with the mink cleverly concealed on the inside, I’m safe from paint-throwing anti-fur activists.

The only thing I’m not safe from is my mother, who is probably nudging my cigar-smoking father up there in heaven, and having a hearty laugh watching me wearing her mink — just as she had planned all those years ago.

Karen Galatz
Karen Galatz

Karen Galatz is the author of Muddling through Middle Age, a weekly humor blog. An award-winning journalist, her nonfiction and fiction essays and stories have been featured in multiple publications. She lives in Berkeley and can be reached at karen@muddling.me.