I have been cleaning out my closets for the last couple of weeks and I’m proud to say that I’ve gotten rid of a massive amount of crap that I don't need anymore. Inspired by The Learning Channel show, Clean Sweep I applied very strict rules when it came to what to keep. If I haven’t worn it in two years it had to go. And this rule is necessary because I have a lot of clothes. There are things that I probably shouldn’t wear anymore, so maybe I need to watch that other TLC show, What Not to Wear and go at the closet again. Seriously though I have gotten rid of a lot of stuff and it feels good.
The only item I’m struggling with is Jeannie’s sweater.
It’s made from brown and beige poly acrylic yarn with big plastic marbled buttons. It’s very long – technically more of a sweater coat. There’s a hole in one elbow and when I have inquired about getting it repaired I am told that the only thing that can be done is to put a leather patch over the hole, which wouldn’t look right. It would look wrong.
Jeannie’s mother knit the sweater for her about 1965. She was 27, married to Art and had two little boys, Jessie, who was 3 and Cory who was 18 months old. She brought the sweater along on a trip to Mammoth where her husband and my father were serving as chaperones, counselors, the responsible adults for a group of teenagers on what was a church trip - I think. We all stayed at a big old mountain house called Laurel Lodge. I was 5 and my brother was 3 and I don’t remember much about the trip except for one day when I came upon a whole bunch of albums that the "big kids" had been listening to and didn’t put away. And I thought it would be great fun to slide around the room on them – and it was until I cracked a couple. I remember knowing that was bad and getting the hell out of there before anyone caught me so I wouldn't get in trouble.
The other thing I remember about this trip was waking up early one morning and going to the kitchen to find my mom crying as she did dishes at the sink. I sat on a chair at the table and watched her quietly before I surprised her when I asked, “why are you crying mommy?” She turned around quickly with the dishrag in her hand, she hadn’t heard me come in. She took a breath and wiped her eyes on the dishtowel.
“Shhhhhh, don’t wake your brother up.”
“Why are you crying?”
Her eyes welled up again.
“Because Jessie and Cory’s mommy died.”
“What do you mean she died?”
“Well she went to sleep last night and she didn’t wake up this morning.”
“What are Jessie and Cory going to do without their mom? Are they going to be okay?” “Where’s their mommy now?”
“They’re going to be okay. An ambulance came and took Jeannie to the hospital and Art went with her so we’re going to take care of Jessie and Cory today.”
Jeannie had an aneurism that blew and that’s why she didn’t wake up. My mom didn’t tell me that then, I mean I was five. But I got the gist of it. Jessie and Cory didn’t have a mommy anymore. I still remember how that made me feel when I was five – to imagine my mommy not waking up. To think about my mommy not waking up made me feel incredibly sad. If I stop and think about that right now it makes me really sad. My mom would have been 28 at the time and that seems very young to me now. Too young to die for sure.
Art couldn’t deal with packing Jeannie’s clothes and going home without her so he gave them to my mom and that’s how we got Jeannie’s sweater. My mom wore the sweater as long as it was fashionable and then when it was no longer fashionable she still wore it, but mostly as something to throw over her pajamas when she had to drive us to school because we were late.
One day I came across it in a pile of stuff in the front hall that was going to Goodwill. My mom doesn’t have a problem getting rid of stuff, she cleans her closets regularly. At this point I was an adult and the sweater was less a memory of Jeannie and more something that I associated with my mom. But somewhere, tied up in that association was the memory of mommy loss and I just couldn’t stand to see the sweater go. So I took it home and I wore it over my pajamas when I had to run out to the 7-11 for creamer early in the morning. And sometimes I wore it to the movies if I was going to see something sad and it was cold outside.
I have emotional memories around this sweater. Weird I know, but I’m too old to have a blankie so I’ve got Jeannie’s sweater and it’s sitting in my front hall with a lot of bags of stuff that are going to the Salvation Army.
But I’m seriously thinking about hanging onto it because I'm not ready to let go of Jeannie's sweater just yet.