Folding the laundry gets me down sometimes. It’s a mindless activity, really. My brain runs on autopilot as it remembers the old days when laundry only took up a small percentage of my time. Nowadays, I can spend up to four hours in one afternoon doing laundry for my tribe of six people.
I drift into a mechanical rhythm as I go through my three step process:
- put away
(Granted, this is an ideal scenario- I don’t typically make it through all three steps in one day!)
While I was going through the motions this morning, my hands picked up a worn, shapeless, grey sweater from the pile. It used to belong to my dad. Now it’s mine and I proudly wear it on the days that remind me of him the most. The days when the smell of pine invites me into a memory of picking out a Christmas tree together at a farm in the mountains. When the cool, crisp air of fall beckons me to remember Thanksgivings past as I breathe it deeply into my lungs.
I separate the cold weather items for storage from the hot weather items and this chunky, misshapen sweater calls out to me from beneath the pile. It says, “Wear me on the warm, summer days, too.”
But, I can’t. Oh, I want to. The reality is, though, that if I put that sweater on in May, I’ll sweat right through it on those 90 degree days of June, July, and August, too. I’ll just rationalize my wearing of it through the heat because, eventually, the frigid winter will come around again. Might as well keep it on, I’ll say to myself. The more I wear it, the thinner it will get. So much use will inevitably render it no good for what it was originally intended: warmth.
When my dad passed away, my worst fear came to be. We all have things that we are scared of. For me, it was a world without my father’s presence. This sweater, as silly as it sounds, makes me feel his presence. It provides me with access, like a portal, into a pre-hospital bed world where life was warm even on the coldest days.
I know that looking back can be good for me. It can help me be grateful for the unconditional love of my father in a world where many people don’t have that same story. It can provoke me to change bad habits due to his always well-timed words of wisdom stuck on repeat in my mind. It can cause me to get down on my knees and pray that my children truly know how much my husband and I love them.
What fond recollection cannot do, however, is bring my dad back. Ultimately, that is my greatest wish. To feel his embrace instead of just having to remember it by wearing his old sweater. It’s an itchy substitute for the real thing. It can only really be worn on frosty days to experience its underlying thermal purpose.
This is why the hours of retrieving, folding, and putting away laundry are so important. Some days, I just can’t wear the sweater. So I touch it, smell it, (even though it’s been washed I still feel like I can smell his cologne) and then I store it in a large Rubbermaid container until October rolls around again.
I save up my memories all summer long so that in the burnt orange fall, I can open that bin with expectation. Oh, the cold days might come with a flurry of snow, but I don’t have to worry about being unprepared. I am always warm in my dad’s grey sweater.