“New sweater? It looks good.”
“No. It was my mom’s and I packed it away so I wouldn’t wear it out,” Sally explained to her husband. He nodded, hugged her, grabbed his lunch box from the counter, and headed out into the frigid autumn morning.
A whisper of cold air danced around her bare feet and heart in the brief moments before the door closed behind him. She shivered. It was truth she had spoken to him. But partial truth.
It was my mother’s cardigan, one of the few things of hers that I have, she defended her explanation to herself. But there was more she knew. The long cardigan was a mixture of autumn orange, forest green, mustard yellow, and deep brown yarns, reminiscent of Vermont foliage. It was a knitted tangible of outward warmth and internal warring. Bitterness sought to assassinate forgiveness. Grief pointed a gun at grace. Questions screamed for answers.
When her mother passed away from cirrhosis five years ago, Sally had wanted nothing that belonged to the women she barely knew. She had flown in for the funeral and memorial service, a trip compelled more by a sense of duty than want. When her brother and sister fought over the meager belongings in the tiny mobile home with walls stained nicotine yellow – the dwelling where her mother had lived, physically if not emotionally – she sat quietly, letting them battle it out. They divided everything except a few romance novels, a broken microwave, some Tupperware lids and a pile of clothing. The sweater sat on top, a rare bit of new beauty amidst the tattered and worn. Without examining her rationale, Sally slipped the garment into her suitcase.
The following day, she meticulously unpacked the suitcase, putting make-up and shoes in their rightful spots. She washed, then carefully folded the sweater and a kaleidoscope of emotions and placed them in a storage container in her closet. She left them there. Fold and forget was her default setting. It was much easier than making waves or dealing with the onslaught of unwanted sentiments. She preferred safe-familiar over the possibility of pain, so the cardigan remained in her closet where clothes hung according to color, and out of season items were organized neatly on shelves in labeled bins.
Until this morning.
Over the previous summer, several sessions with a counselor and a zip-lining excursion with girlfriends had forced her to stare fear in the face and her soul had begun to shout, “I’ve got this!”
After showering this morning, she had impulsively pulled the sweater out and slipped it on over a deep brown camisole. Might as well wear it.
“Girlfriend! Is that new? I love it!” Throughout the day, Sally fielded compliments from her co-workers. Whenever she offered up a meek “It was my mother’s,” she was flooded with stories about beautiful mother-daughter or mother-son relationships and by the end of the day the depression lay heavier than the sweater. She had no such stories. Only memories of hiding in a closet when drunken parties got out of hand, of nights she and her siblings spent alone not sure when their mother would return from one of her drinking binges. Violent fights. Broken dreams. Shame. She had just begun to cautiously sort through the faded photos arranged helter-skelter in her psyche. But the stories of co-workers were forcing her to look at the ones she wanted to keep stored.
She vowed to throw the cardigan away as soon as she got home, but the moment she walked through the door the heaviness evaporated. “Gwandma’s home! Gwandma’s home!” her nearly three-year-old granddaughter squealed. “Can we wead a book? Can we Gwandma?”
“Of course, Sophie. Why don’t you go find a book while I put my stuff down?” Sally laughed and hung her purse and keys on their pegs by the back door. She knew the girl with dimples deeper than the holes the new puppy had been digging would search through the dozens of books in her playroom until she found “Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance.” They must have read the silly story a hundred times already. Sally plopped down on the brightly flowered love seat next to her daughter, inhaling the lemony scent of her natural shampoo, and gave her a quick hug.
“Hey mom, we were at the library nearby and I wanted to grab some stamps. I needed to get these birthday invitations in the mail yesterday and don’t want to fight the post office lines. I know you always keep rolls of stamps in your desk.” Amy looked up from the envelope she was addressing and did a double take. “Woah, Mom. I love your sweater! Is it new?”
“Uh, no. It was your grandmother’s. I brought it home when I went back for her funeral. But it’s about to go to Goodwill,” Sally explained to her daughter the mild depression that had sneaked in with all of the stories her co-workers shared. Amy was aware that her mom didn’t have a healthy childhood and she didn’t argue. Instead, after a brief pause, she asked if she could have the sweater.
“I guess, if you really want it.” Sally shrugged out of it and headed to her bedroom for a button up shirt to cover the camisole. Then she peeked in Sophie’s room just as the toddler triumphantly held up a battered book. Sally dropped to the floor next to her and began reading, occasionally pausing to let her granddaughter fill in the missing words. The girl pretty much had the book memorized. When the monster dumped a jar of ants into his pants they shrieked and fell into a fit of giggles, as though they hadn’t heard it a hundred times before.
“I may be a monster, but man can I dance!”** The pair belted out the last line in unison.
“Well, you two are definitely cut from the same cloth,” Amy grinned down at them before instructing her daughter to put the book away. “C’mon Pumpkin, time to go home.”
“Are you ready for this?” Sally’s husband grinned impishly at her. She stuck her tongue out and grabbed the gift bag. Glitter from the large number three on the front drifted down onto her black slacks. “Bring it!” She laughed. “I’m sure at least one of us can keep up with all of these young’uns.” It was Sophie’s birthday party and they would be spending the next few hours with a house full of toddlers and their parents – none of them past their late twenties. Last year Sally had suggested to Amy that they celebrate separately with their granddaughter, but Sophie was having none of it. Gwandma and Gwandpa had to be at her party she insisted.
Hours later, wrapping paper, plates, unicorn cupcake wrappers, and toys littered the living room and the last guest waved goodbye. Sally began stacking plates and cups to carry to the sink.
“Hey Mom, wait a minute. I have something for you.” Amy tugged at Sally’s arm, indicating she should follow her out into the living room. Sally moved a pile of stuffed animals from the couch and sat. Amy returned with a gift bag.
Sally pulled the top piece of tissue from the bag. A folded piece of paper fell out. “Mom, you are one of the strongest women of faith I know. Even though you started life with some lousy materials, you have managed to turn them into something beautiful and warm for your own children. So here’s a piece of gratitude for you.” Sally read. She reached into the bag and pulled out an intricately knitted lap blanket. She immediately recognized the familiar yarn. Placing the covering of autumn orange, forest green, mustard yellow, and deep brown on her lap, she lifted a silent pray of gratitude for all it represented. It didn’t matter so much what she started with, but whether she allowed Grace to create something from the pieces. She could unfold anything – sadness, grief, fear, loss – and watch the Master’s Hand weave it into a brand new, showcase worthy garment.
(He will) provide…a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…Isaiah 61:3 NIV
PS *** Frank was a Monster who Wanted to Dance (This really is a favorite book of a certain grandchild of mine )