More than twenty years ago my boys were babies, and I was a La Leche League leader, helping other women to breastfeed. LLL is an organization with good intentions, but some of their values I couldn’t align with, for example, their insistence on the heterosexual couple as the sine qua non. My tenure as a leader was very short.
I remember leader meetings, lots of women gathering at somebody’s messy house with babies at their breasts, toddlers underfoot, herbal tea steeping in the kitchen alongside the plate of carob brownies. Before we started the business portion of our meeting, one of the leaders would pose an ice-breaker question, for example, when did you last have sex? I have to admit I blushed hotly at that question and probably evaded answering. And then another question that was more interesting to me, tell us a bit about an item of clothing you are wearing: What’s the backstory?
I used that question as a writing prompt when I taught English, and it’s still a question that I enjoy asking myself and others. I might be walking down the street and notice my shoes. . . where did I get them? Sometimes the story is flat and uninteresting, but other times the tale has tasty layers.
Today I am wearing the grey hoodie I bought at the Gap in Manhattan on my honeymoon. I found it on the boys’ rack, 50% off, so I snapped it up. I didn’t really want to take much time for clothes shopping—we had only four days and we packed them full, going to the Metropolitan museum; listening to jazz in Washington Square; basking on park benches; eating pastries at Italian bakeries; going to plays; wandering through SoHo, Harlem, Central Park, and Greenwich Village; finding cool little galleries and stores; taking photographs; and eating wonderful food. And lots of loving, of course.
I needed warmth at a bargain during that chilly spring vacation because when we arrived at La Guardia I had no luggage—just the clothes on my back. We had booked an early morning flight, and my youngest son had kindly offered to stay over at our apartment and drive us to the airport. Groggy in the blue dawn, we hugged him good-bye and went into Departures as he drove off in our car. As we started to check in, I looked down and realized that the black duffle bag I had packed for our week’s vacation—NYC honeymoon followed by a few days in Toronto—was nowhere to be seen. And then I remembered it was still in the trunk of our car, now speeding down the Patricia Bay Highway to my son’s house.
I had a small burst of tears, and then I cheered right up. “It will be an adventure,” I offered my concerned husband. “I don’t need much, just a couple of things. It will be a minimalist honeymoon.” We kissed and then I just let go of the idea I needed my favourite jeans, certain socks, that lovely sweater, my contact lenses. I just wanted to adapt to what was happening because what was happening was wonderful. Honeymoon! Clothes are not so important in the large scheme of things, anyway.
I picked up the cheap hoodie that still serves me well. I think it was twelve bucks. We took the bus to Hell’s Kitchen and visited the Salvation Army to find a pair of pants and a shirt. As I moved slowly down the aisles of musty clothes, I met an old woman with a voluminous skirt, pulling pants up under them. “The change rooms are such a hassle, so I finally learned to just wear a skirt so I can try on stuff right in the store,” she chuckled with the wisdom of the serious lifetime thrifter. I liked her.
I washed out my one pair of panties every night in the hotel sink and blew the last bit of damp out of them with the hair dryer in the morning.
My goodness, we had fun those four days. I felt so very light and loved, free and happy.
That’s the story of the grey hoodie. Look at something you are wearing. What’s its history? Please write your sartorial story in comments. I am looking forward to it.
I get updates in my email when you post a new story. I had my email open this morning and my wife walked by and looked at my most recently received message. She asked who the hell is Madeline Ruth Walker and why is she asking what clothes you are wearing today. I like her blog proved to be an insufficient response.
Ha, this is funny. Remind your wife that I am the one who made granola for you two when you got married.
Suchh an awesome post, thank you Madeline, for writing about this, and for being you and for being in my life.
Thank you, Michael. I remember, too, that we bought beautiful t-shirts from an ex-Buddhist monk on our honeymoon, and you still wear yours, another material reminder of those magical days in Manhattan.