Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Mother's Sweater


This is my mother’s sweater, or should I say WAS my mother’s sweater. We stole it.

A couple of years ago, when my sisters and I helped our mother move out of her house and into my sister Karen’s house, we had mountains of clothes to sort through. Mama had a three-bedroom house, and she had clothes in every single closet, including the double cedar-lined one in the basement; and she was moving into a bedroom with one closet. There was definite wardrobe thinning to do.

My mother is one of those Depression-Era people who never got rid of a single thing that passed through her grip. If something came into her possession, it remained in her possession, for decades. That goes for old frying pans that had lost their handles, chipped cereal bowls from a 1970s gas station promotion, old shoes from her years working in an office when every dress had matching pumps and then all of those dresses.

She made a lot of her clothes back in the day, and as a fairly good seamstress, her dresses wore very well. When she compared them to dresses she found on the racks in stores, she doubted the quality of store-bought. She doubted the dye quality of foreign-made clothes, and she flinched at newer styles. “Clothes used to be pretty,” she’d say if you took her shopping.

So, years worth of clothes all crammed into closets and on wire hangers at that. And we thinned. Once in her new digs, we helped our mother find storage space for the clothes she chose to keep (and those we chose on her behalf when she wasn't looking). Karen and I were hanging up things, and I spotted this cool open-weave sweater and admired it right away. Scavengers that we are, we decided my mother never wore it and wouldn’t miss it, but there was more of me then, and I knew the sweater would be too small for me.

Well, time has passed, and there is less of me, and as I was visiting my sister’s house again this past Christmas, she brought out The Sweater. It turned out to be true that our mother never wore it. Plus, she eventually moved into an assisted living unit with even less closet space, and she left that sweater behind. It fit Karen nicely, and she began wearing it, mostly to funerals, she said, but she wondered if I might like it now that it fits me. We live hundreds of miles apart, but now we’re sharing the sweater.

I’d like to say it reminds me of my mother, but I don’t believe I ever saw her wearing it. And I don’t recall she and I ever liking the same styles. In fact, it was when I would point to something interesting in a store that she would say, “Clothes used to be pretty.” If she knew I was wearing something she had once liked—and owned—she’d either doubt the loveliness of the sweater or suggest my tastes have improved. And I'll add, if she knew I often wear her sweater with jeans, she'd be appalled. A strong distaste for all things denim is another side-effect of growing up during the Depression. Mama lived on a farm, and in the 30s and 40s, when she wasn't dressed for school, she was dressed for farm work and had to wear denim overalls to pick cotton or to feed the chickens. Since then, she has hated jeans and never understood why anyone would choose to wear them.

Well, I’m enjoying my turn with The Sweater. I'll eventually give it back to Karen, and someday one of us will give it to Good Will. We aren't from the Depression Era, and to us, clothes—and old pans and broken dishes and tired shoes—have a limited life span.

What does that say about us, I wonder? Hmmm, nothing, I think, except that we don't put too much stock in every single possession because we have plenty. Maybe we have too much, or maybe such a judgment is relative, and as long as we can add a treat like The Sweater to the mix now and then, we might have just enough.

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