The Things that Own You

Looking back over a relatively long life I’m amazed at how few pieces of clothing I can ever remember owning, despite at one time being somewhat of a “clothes horse,” perhaps in a vain attempt to imitate my older brother, or perhaps merely to compensate for my relative lack of looks. Often when I look at old photographs I see clothes that look like they must have belonged to someone else, not me. Still, there are five pieces of clothing that still seem invaluable to me.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, only one of these items of clothing had any real economic value. All of them, though, had tremendous sentimental value. And the longer I had them the harder it was to get rid of them; they just kept getting more and more valuable with time.

The oldest of them, and the one I kept the longest, was a “ski” sweater my mother knitted. It reminded me of all the sweaters my mother knitted for my older brother and me when we were younger living in Washington and needed warm winter clothing. This may well have been the last sweater my mother ever knitted because the skin on her hands became thin and brittle. Despite the pain, or perhaps because of it, this was certainly one of the most beautiful sweaters she ever knitted. Although the sweater was much too warm for cross-country skiing, I wore it whenever I got a chance in the winter. The sweater remained in my chest-of-drawers for many years past the time I could actually wear it because I loved it so much.

I still have my army jacket, despite the fact that it’s been forever since I got out of the army. Of course, part of that may be explained by the fact that it was one of the few items large enough that I can still wear it. Unfortunately, by now it’s gotten raggedy enough that I only wear it when I’m working in the shop or in the yard. I long ago stripped the patches, though not the nametag, off the jacket out of respect for them. I didn’t have the heart to burn the jacket as I probably should have, though. That jacket saw me through a lot of interesting times, and I can’t quite imagine myself without it hanging around the house somewhere.

Despite the fact that I generally hated to wear a coat and tie, the coat that Paula, my first wife, made for me remains one of my favorite pieces of clothing. I kept it around long after the sleeves were too worn to wear it to school, or anywhere else for that matter. Although Paula was an excellent seamstress before we were married, she took a special class at the local community college in order to make the jacket. It was a demanding class, and, as I remember it, my jacket was her class project. It was a beautifully tailored coat, or at least it was to my relatively inexperienced eye. It mad me look good, but, more importantly, it made me feel great when I wore it. I was proud to announce that my wife had made it for me.

I’m not sure if I bought the lama hat that I wore hiking for years or if someone bought it for me from Early Winters. I do know, though, that I wore it from the time I seriously started hiking to the point where the rusted wire rim that held the brim out became a dangerous weapon, threatening to blind me if I did not finally get rid of it. I’m not sure whether I loved that old hat because it made me look like Walt Whitman, because it had accompanied me on so many fabulous hikes, or simply because it was imminently practical. It kept the sun out of my eyes and cooled my head when dipped in a cold mountain stream, and it kept the rain off my glasses when it was cold and raining. It was an indispensable tool on a hiking trip.

The costliest piece of clothing I’ve ever owned would have to be the Gore Tex jacket that Leslie bought for me as a wedding present instead of a ring. Despite it’s horrendous original price, it may well turn out to be a surprisingly affordable jacket when you consider how much wear I’ve gotten out of it. In the winter, I’ve worn it nearly daily, both to go out shopping because it looks sharp and cross-country skiing because it functions so well at keeping water out while still letting sweat escape. It is jackets like this that have justifiably made North Face a legend in the hiking field, and after the fact seems worth every penny it cost. It still shows little sign of wear, though I’ve taken the precaution of buying a much cheaper jacket to wear on days when it’s unlikely to rain or my life doesn’t depend on staying dry in freezing cold weather. I can’t quite imagine living without this jacket, though like all good things it, too, will probably pass.

Despite my current aversion to “wasting” money on clothes that I don’t need and don’t want, I can’t imagine how much poorer my life would have been without these clothes. In a very real sense, I didn’t own them; they owned me.

Sleeping with the Enemy

Obviously political tempers have ratcheted up here in Tacoma, Washington, so much so that the local paper recently ran a long story on how families can cope with political disagreements.

I told Leslie that was really quite simple. If she were to vote for the Bush administration I would simply file for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. Unfortunately, I suspect I would find it difficult to even remain good friends with someone who actively supported Bush. I guess I could somehow manage to remain brothers, but even then it would put a strain on the relationship.

Judging from some of the comments I’ve read on blogs, I suspect that the divide that runs through this nation is going to become even wider as this term plays itself out.

The Christian Scientist Monitor has been running an excellent series,
Talking with the Enemy, one that I’ll be spending more time reading in the near future. Here’s a short introduction to the series:

What strikes me most about “Talking With the Enemy,” the series of commentaries starting today, is the tough-mindedness of the writers considering America’s polarization. None of them argues against polarization merely because it is oppositional or rudely expressed. All of them recognize that democracy does not wear dainty white gloves and speak in polite murmurings. Yet, with only one exception in this eight-part series, America’s current state of mind alarms them. They fear that stark and bitter polarization over issues such as the war in Iraq endangers our future – not because the polarization makes people angry, but because it makes us dysfunctional as a society.

Practically speaking, though, I have fairly good skills dealing with people whose ideas and values I tend to disagree with. As a liberal teacher in a conservative school district, I became quite adroit at defusing issues or simply switching the topic when things got too heated up.

At times I found that some of my favorite students were ones who came from very different religious and economic backgrounds than my own. While I still didn’t share many of their fundamental beliefs, I respected, and sometimes envied, their religious faith. These kids often had a strength of character that was admirable, and they lived their values.

I still remember being a little shocked when one of my favorite students from the Apostolic Church told me that she hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed in her because she was not going to go to college, was going to get married young, raise a large number of children, and never have a job outside the home. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Though that certainly wasn’t the lifestyle I chose for my family or for my own daughter, I thought it was fine that she had made her own choice and wanted to abide by it. In fact, I was genuinely impressed with the way most Apostolic families raised their children.

It seems to me that reasonable people can disagree on very fundamental values and still manage to respect other people’s choices, but it is not an easy task, particularly if one person wants to impose his choices on the other person. I’m far too independent to put up with anyone trying to limit my own personal choices, but I’m also far too libertarian to want to limit other’s choices unless it’s clear that in doing so they will hurt others.