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  • Mj Pettengill

The Warmth of Your Sweater: Undaughtered


Littl Girl and Teddy   CC0
Little Girl and Teddy CC0

My father was a practical man—ordered and neat. Whatever was swirling about in the outer and inner worlds, he had a way of reeling in for clarity. How he remained calm and centered in a family consisting of a wife and five daughters amazes me. He rarely, if ever, became ruffled. Because it was so uncommon, it was an unsettling event when it did happen.

It wasn’t until after my mother’s death—when I became fully undaughtered—that we sorted through their belongings. I sat in my sister’s living room with boxes and stacks of things surrounding us. I wasn’t particularly comfortable, but I knew that this was the time, if any, to find any remnants from my parents’ lives that would bring everlasting meaning.

When it comes to stuff, like my father, I am simple. I don’t need much and don’t like waste or clutter. I also believe that what I have of my mother and father is of the spirit and heart. However, I am also a bit sentimental. My mother’s simplicity was unique, almost childlike. Until her later years, I was unable to comprehend or appreciate it — her. But, eventually, I did. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Because of my lack of connection to worldly goods, what was left reminded me of a site well-scavenged. And that’s okay. I’m different, and what interests me would likely bore the average person. I was the last of the sisters to show up for this picking event. Some of the trinkets were of great interest—for example, my father’s dog tags. I created a display with them and presented them to my son, who serves in the military, as a birthday present. He was delighted and honored.

Then, I spotted a pile of clothes, where a familiar sweater caught my eye. My sister planned to donate most of the clothes to a charity shop and later had beautiful patchwork pillows crafted for us.

I gathered the sweater in my arms, buried my face in it, and instantly conjured the essence of my father. There were no coffee mugs, watches, or cuff links that could have taken me away from his sweater.

Burgundy with old-school leather buttons—it’s the kind of sweater that Mr. Rogers might have worn, only thick and heavy. I closed my eyes and imagined him wearing it.

“I want this,” I said.

This came about in the hottest part of the summer, so I tucked it away with my winter clothes when I got home. Once autumn arrived, when I was putting away tank tops and gathering my warm clothes, there it was. I picked it up, and I buried my face in it again. Was it possible that it still smelled like him after so many years? Or was it me conjuring his scent? It didn’t matter. How I felt counted. This sweater brought comfort and serenity. It summoned a sense of care and love directly connected to my father.

I tried it on. A man’s cardigan, Mr. Roger-style, wasn’t really my usual attire. That’s okay. I’d wear it around the house. Then my younger son was standing in the kitchen, and I spontaneously offered for him to try it. At first, he was thrilled. He had that same sense of his grandfather as I did. He held his arms out and looked at it before reality sunk in. He wouldn’t wear it, and the sleeves were too short. So, he gave it back. Secretly, I was relieved.

Being wrapped in it reminds me of a child nestling in with her blanket or favorite doll. Yesterday, I wore it out of the house for the first time. It was perfect under my ski vest.

I visited my daughter. When I told her that I was wearing her grampa’s sweater, she had a twinkle in her eye. I could imagine her wrapped up in it on a cold winter night.

It isn’t just a sweater; it’s the shelter of him—my father—his care and safety enveloping me as if I were a little girl again. It’s the memories stitched into each thread. Any cold, empty moments that emerge are quickly dissolved when wrapped in the warm remembrances of my father. I must take care not to wear it out and pass it along to my daughter, this sweater of love.