The first chill of winter wind cutting through my layers always takes me back to my childhood, when the bitter cold always evoked the same feeling of dread in my bones: the horror of the winter parka. I vividly remember trying to sneak out the back door into the rolling hills of the first snow; tiptoeing across the icy tile floor to slowly open the squeaky door, I almost expected my mother’s slightly annoyed voice to stop me in my tracks with, “Wait, wait, you forgot your winter coat!”
I can still feel the overwhelming entrapment puffy garments meant for me. Stuffed into those marshmallow-like neon jackets, I was sweaty and annoyed, completely paralyzed from moving my arms in any practical manner and certainly unable to maneuver through the snow at a reasonable speed.
Apparently my mom enjoyed this feeling. Every year she pulled out her very own puffer, an item we coined her “sleeping bag coat,” turning her into a small human taco in a black insulated tortilla.
I freed myself from the chains of the puffy winter coat as soon as I was old enough to reasonably make wardrobe decisions for myself. I use the term “reasonably” quite loosely. For years I waded through the North Vancouver snow in next to nothing, always near hypothermia but never quite humble enough to admit it, especially to my triple-layered-taco mom. By the time I realized I was sick of feeling hypothermic every winter, I was already off to university in Toronto, a land that all Vancouverites warned me was, “so cold you couldn’t even go outside in the winter.” My very stylish father was alarmed by this news, and in order to ensure my survival in the desolate artic tundra of Canada’s East, he vowed to buy me an impenetrable parka.
True to his word, on the first day we landed in Toronto, we went shopping to find the ideal warm winter wrapping; I ended up with a fantastic navy blue twill parka lined with light blue silk and layered with pockets of down insulating the inside, complete with an Eskimo-style fur hood and big shiny silver buttons.
Although my mother was a little disappointed I turned down the black shiny puffer-coat options she had presented, when she felt the weight of my new parka she was satisfied; I would be warm.
Over the years, having suffered through winters full of nagging and many claustrophobic moments of being buried under too many layers, I’ve come to realize my mom was just trying to teach me the most important survival skill in a Canadian winter: staying warm, inside and out. In retrospect, the donning of the winter coat was always linked with hugs and kisses, warm shortbread cookies, and homemade apple cider — all my mother’s ways of keeping her family as warm as possible. Now in my twenties, I am always eager to layer up each winter with my parka, sweet treats, and lots of love — proof that mothers always know best. My mother, to this day, still wears her sleeping bag coat, proudly donning it every holiday season.
- Alyssa Garrison
Photography by Erika Neilly