An Article of Clothing

This is the story of what used to be a red sweatshirt.

Hannah in the Sweatshirt
Hannah in the Sweatshirt

It’s up there in that picture, on my middle daughter, Hannah.

But it’s not her sweatshirt. It never was.

In fact, it’s been washed, disinfected, bleached, worn, drug in the dirt, leaves, all of that for almost twenty years now. It’s more mauve now than the red/burgundy it was when I paid for it those decades ago. And make no mistake, I did pay for it in more than one way. I don’t mean that to sound angry or uptight, it’s not meant to sound that way.

This sweatshirt represented a lot to my wife, though she never voiced anything of the sort. In 1994 our oldest daughter, Abigail, was born. It marked a major shift in both Andrea’s and my lives. I left a job at an insurance company (which shall remain nameless) to go back into journalism, as I needed to do something that made me . . . and most importantly my new daughter . . . proud. My wife had left the television industry years before, not particularly happy with the direction TV news was headed and not particularly happy with the focus on image and ego.

Where I chose to continue with what I’d been educated, Andrea wanted to do something that helped people. She’d seen my father as a pharmacist and thought that it would help people and get her into the public, talking with people. As part of the Pharmacy school, they had the opportunity to purchase sweatshirts and proudly show the world that they were part of what – at the time – was one of the most prestigious pharmacy schools in the country. Even then, it wasn’t a cheap sweatshirt. It was a fundraiser for the program – at a private, Jesuit university – and it was a thick, embroidered design. At the time it was a deep red.

Andrea wore that sweatshirt proudly, and she wore it a lot. She was very proud of the fact she was in the pharmacy program and after even more proud that she’d graduated from it. This wasn’t just pride in the school. There were a number of people – some in her very own family, I am sad to say – that were certain that this was not only a mistake, but that she was doomed and destined to fail. While I was always confident of my wife’s intellect it was neither acknowledged nor encouraged by others. When she went back to school I worked in TV at a small market station, did ad insertion on weekends for basketball games, and every weekday at 3am I delivered the Omaha World Herald . . . just to try and make ends meet and to pay for the prerequisite classes and her first year of the PharmD program. On top of that I gigged as often as I could . . . those gigs often helped us to eat . . . and to pay for sweatshirts from the pharmacy school.

That sweatshirt was a staple in those formative years, both for Abbi and our second child, Hannah. Andrea loved it because it was warm, cuddly, soft, and familiar. Abbi’s memories of her mother center around the fact that her mother was always at the dining room table, a chemistry book open, that sweatshirt on her body and her glasses on her face, reading until all hours of the night. She also remembers her father, exhausted, half-awake, still walking behind her mother, reaching his arms around the bulk of that burgundy-turning-purple shirt and squeezing. The nervous giggle coming out of her Mom’s mouth, “I have to study!” following it and jokingly telling me to leave her alone. “I can’t help it, you’re just so comfy,” was usually my line. You see, Fall and Winter in the Midwest are cold, and we lived in an old Craftsman home. It was small, drafty, open, had a furnace from WWI, it seemed, and we loved it. We were close, cuddly, joking, young, stupid, and still in the throes of stressful early marriage.

As Andrea got older, the sweatshirt stayed. She wore it until, years later, eighteen if we’re being precise, she couldn’t fit into it due to illnesses that caused a weight gain she couldn’t remove. We never got rid of the sweatshirt.

After Andrea passed away we had to get rid of a lot of things, including most of her clothing. Some of it was contaminated by the bacteria she’d contracted and we disposed of it. Much of it was worn out. Most of it was simply because we had to move and I didn’t have the space or the luxury of waiting. It had to go.

The sweatshirt . . . in fact much of the clothing from that era . . . stayed. For the last two years, Abbi’s worn that sweatshirt. She never really said much other than “it’s really comfy!” That’s true enough. But the comfort isn’t in the fleece lining the well-made article of clothing. I’ve noticed it in the last few months in particular. Her sister will meekly come around the corner and I’ll hear “Abbi, can I wear the sweatshirt?” Abbi will relent, and I’ll see the now purple sweatshirt fitting Hannah nearly the same way it did her mother. Part of me thinks Abbi lets her wear the sweatshirt she’d commandeered for the reason it reminds her of her mother.

Understand, for years, those first 4-5 years in fact, Abbi has memories of her Mom in sweat pants, her blonde hair in a bob, and that red sweatshirt. Where Mondays were the “Abbi/Daddy day,” every other day had Abbi in a stroller, her Mom in that sweatshirt, pushing her along. Even if it was dirty, we’d wash just that sweatshirt, because it gave Andrea comfort.

Today, the two girls gain comfort from that same sweatshirt.

It’s not just an article of clothing. It’s a piece of history itself, but it’s got a blueprint . . . albeit and emotional one.

And it gives us all comfort.

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