When my daughter was in junior high, flannel shirts suddenly, for some strange reason, became popular. Shali was stylish and fashionable (unlike her mom), and somehow we ended up buying her a really cool flannel in a sky blue and pale green plaid. The predominant bright blue color brought out the crystal blue in her eyes, and she wore her shirt proudly over various t-shirts. It was such a cool shirt, in fact, that her little brother was known to snag it out of her closet (or off her floor) and sneak it to school in his backpack so he could wear it himself.
Eventually, Shali moved on to other trends in fashion, and the awesome flannel shirt became a cast off. No doubt it would have been donated to Goodwill, but I claimed it. And I wore the heck out of it, throwing it on over t-shirts on cool autumn and spring mornings when I went out to walk the dogs or work in the garden. I loved the soft warmth of it, and wearing it reminded me of an innocent and happy time in my daughter’s life.
She’s 37 now. After I moved to the mountain, the shirt got a lot of wear. But the frequent washings took their toll, and in recent days the fabric has become so worn that the collar has frayed and there is little warmth left in it. I need to discard it. But how can I? With every passing year, it has meant more and more to me, even as its colors have faded, the once plush flannel has become a gossamer version of its once sturdy form.
I feel the same way about a lunchbox the kids gave me many years ago. It was made of a soft, foam-filled vinyl of some kind, and Shali, Ezra, Sam and Jo covered it with their signatures in puff paint to decorate it, then gave it to me when I started teaching. I used and washed the thing so many times that now the vinyl is torn, the foam padding has all but disintegrated. But how can I throw it away? When I mentioned this to my daughter last year, she bought me a new lunchbox—an exact replica of the black metal ‘Thermos’ box my dad used to take with him to work. I love it, and now I use it every day, while the old one sits atop the fridge, collecting dust.
I’m not a hoarder by any means; I’m pretty good about tossing out or donating anything I no longer need or use. But these old things… I have a need for them that transcends utility, and I count them with my most prized treasures.