Wrapped in Her Memory

mom-sweaterAs I put on my old sweater, I am reminded that I am becoming my mother. I wear my old sweater on winter days as I do household chores or pay bills or read the newspaper or do practically anything else in the privacy of my own home. Just like my mother did.

My old sweater is my house sweater. Mine is 100 percent cotton; I think hers was a blend. She wore hers over a sleeveless housedress; I usually pair mine with a T-shirt and jeans. Hers was a bit ragged, but so is mine.

When I was much younger, I used to tease her about her house sweater. Why did she wear something that looked that bad, I wondered aloud. Why didn’t she buy a new one, I brazenly asked. She replied that her sweater wasn’t worn out yet and was perfectly fine for wearing around the house. Besides, she never wore it in public.

And that certainly was true. She dressed up when she went to town. (Our family lived on a farm out in the country, so yes, we went to town.) She usually put on a pantsuit or a coordinated blouse and slacks for the public eye, though she’d wear an appropriate dress if the situation warranted.

I usually don’t dress up near as much for town. In today’s more casual culture, I’m likely to put on my “good” jeans, a knit top, and blazer. However, like my mother, I’ll wear an appropriate dress if necessary.

But at home, it’s back to my house sweater. My kids likely wonder why I wear it, and if ever they should ask, my response to them shall be the same as my mother’s to me, but with an addition: My mother has been dead for 15 years and I miss her. But as I wear my house sweater, I am wrapped in her memory. And that is a comfort no brand new sweater could ever match.

Laura Sternweis

P.S. My mother always had a house sweater. For the record, when an old sweater would finally wear out, she would upgrade to a slightly newer model and continue the process. So when my house sweater no longer serves, I’ll replace it with a not-as-old-one and continue to be just like my mother.


Stories Not Told

chronicleOn a recent summer night* I burned my five-year diary. Torched the sucker. Watched it turn to ashes in the backyard fire pit. The diary in question, or perhaps I should say, the questionable diary, was my personal chronicle of 1985 through 1989.

I’d received the diary for Christmas in 1984 from one of my roommates at the time. As a young woman newly graduated from college, freshly minted as a farm news reporter, and recently rid of my lying, cheating ex-boyfriend, I accepted the gift, eager to fill it with what I and I alone deemed true. From age 23 through 27, I faithfully scribed my thoughts and perspectives onto the journal’s blank pages.

After completing the last entry on Dec. 31, 1989, I stashed the diary in my old trunk, tucked away with other personal ephemera for safekeeping. I believed, then, that as I aged I always would want to know what I had written in my youth. But now in 2018 at age 56, I no longer hold that belief. Sometimes the statute of limitations on documenting memories runs out.

I want to hold on to the meaningful things in my life, but I’m becoming more willing to let go of those items that over time have become meaningless.

For the record, I reread my diary before I burned it, at times amused, at times surprised. Some of the stories I remembered; others I did not. But the more I read about myself in my 20s, the more I realized that I did not want to share the majority of these stories with anyone who might inadvertently or purposefully find my old diary. So I decided to censor my younger self, for all posterity.

But first, I removed three pages from my chronicle — the pages that held stories I wanted to keep and was willing to share: how I met the man who would become my husband, how we traveled our way through a snowstorm to get to Lambeau Field for what became known as the Green Bay Packers’ Snow Bowl game, and my four-paragraph summation of my life in the 1980s.

I am a writer and I share stories, but some of my stories are reserved for only me. Not every story should be told. Not every inquiring mind needs to know my secrets. Rather than tell all, sometimes it’s better to keep ’em guessing.

Laura Sternweis

*Aug. 1, 2018

Dusting off Memories

As I cleaned my plastic Elvis collection one recent winter day, I contemplated why I keep these often dusty figurines. Many of them are Christmas ornaments, though they’re always on display. All of them were gifts. Most were from my mother — and there you have the reason for my all-year Elvis season. I find it hard to rid myself of things with any connection to her.

elvis-shelfThe little statuettes inhabit a 2-foot-long shelf up above the linen cabinet in the hallway, about 6 feet up from the floor. It’s a height at which it’s easy to ignore how grimy they become. But a few times a year I take them down from the shelf, one King at a time. With cotton swabs and a rag cut from an old cotton bed sheet dosed in lemon-scented furniture polish, I dust the Elvi.*

My Elvis-sortment includes several versions of Jumpsuit Elvis and 1968 Comeback Special Black Leather Elvis. Hound Dog Elvis and Teddy Bear Elvis hang out with Blue Hawaii Elvis and Gold Lamé Elvis. There’s a Louisiana Hayride Tour Elvis and Serving the Country Army Elvis. Some play music — Blue Christmas or Burning Love — but most are silent on the shelf. One by one I remove the dust from each Elvis and from the shelf, recalling how my mother came across boxed sets of Elvis ornaments in the Fleet Farm Christmas aisle a dozen or more years ago. Thinking of me, she snatched them up. She often bought me Elvis stuff because she thought I would like it. And she was right, though she probably never knew how important it was to me that the items came from her.

One by one I rearrange the relatively dust-free figurines on the shelf and call my cleaning efforts good enough. My mother is gone, but my Elvi are still here — a tribute to my memories.

Laura Sternweis

*My preferred plural of Elvis