Keeping warm

He got one nearly every Christmas. In our family, this was as predictable as the oyster stew, divinity, and rice mush my grandmother served on Christmas Eve.

It was always wool, with two pockets that buttoned, and it was always, always, plaid.

It is hard to shop for older men. What they really want – their youth…more strength… bones that don’t ache…money can’t buy. This is why they generally end up with Pendleton shirts on Christmas Eve.

A week before Christmas, their wives or daughters (because, let’s be honest, it’s always their wives or daughters) rush to the only clothing store left within sixty miles that still sells quality clothing for men and pick out a shirt. Then, they have it wrapped in heavy, foil paper and a plaid bow, go home, and place it beneath the tree.

The fact that my grandfather received a plaid shirt every Christmas became a running  joke with his grandchildren. Every year, as he opened the box he would look in our direction, eyes twinkling, and yell “Oh! A Pendleton shirt! How did you know? It is JUST what I needed!” then throw his head back and laugh as only he could. But he wore every one, and sometimes until there were holes in the sleeves at the elbows.

I remember my favorites. One was navy and deep forest green. Another was tan and teal. After decades without him, all the rest have faded from my memory but one.

I’m wearing that shirt right now.  It is a rich plaid of brown, gray, black, and red. There are patches on the elbows. I had the shirt tails cut off years ago because there were burn holes left from too many years of too many cigar and pipe ashes.

Each December, I take the shirt out and toss it over a turtleneck on the days when I need a little extra warmth and encouragement to get All the Things done. I remember how the wool scratched my cheek when I hugged him hard and how the smell of Old Spice and pipe tobacco lingered in the wool for at least a year after he wore the shirt for the last time.

The shirt that warmed him decades ago still warms his grand-daughter. Isn’t it amazing how long a good wool shirt can last? How long a memory does? And don’t even get me started on love. We’ll be here all day.

Remarkable, really, when you think about it.

How long some things last.


3 Replies to “Keeping warm”

  1. So beautiful. I hope one day you collect your favorite essays – just the seasonal stories alone would be amazing! – into a quintessential “Minnesota” book. I think it would be a family favorite for so many!

  2. PS Is there a way with only a click or two to post your essay on my Facebook page? I’m not sure how to do that. Copy and paste doesn’t seem too efficient. But where is the Facebook icon?

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