My wife surreptitiously stares at the University of Tennessee jersey when I pull it over my head. The Volunteer orange color has much faded after 20 years of washing, but the fabric is still soft and warm. It is my favorite wintertime puttering-around-the house garment.
Combined with a pair of sweatpants, sneakers and a jacket, the jersey enables me to tackle almost any chore or errand. I have worn it to do auto repair, house painting, furniture refinishing, grocery shopping, barbecuing, fishing, hunting, gardening, lawn mowing, hay cutting and baling, dog washing, fencing, firewood splitting—you name it.
I even wore it to UT football games in Knoxville when it was in better shape. The garment’s current condition, unfortunately, is why my wife stares. I see it in her eyes: a woman’s irresistible urge to throw away, donate or replace old clothes.
I fear she soon will make a unilateral decision and my orange jersey will mysteriously disappear. If this happens, I will be like Linus in the Charlie Brown comic when they take away his security blanket.
The jersey has 30 holes (she recently counted them), numerous tears and frayed hems at the cuffs. This doesn’t bother me because I wear old t-shirts underneath. She’s been eyeing them, too.
“That thing’s only held together by paint and grease stains!” she declared. “Why don’t I get you a new jersey and use that old rag for cleaning?”
Aha! She finally sets the stage for the disappearance and replacement of my favorite garment.
I must guard against this, taking as a lesson from happened to one of my uncles and his beloved Crimson Tide jacket. Sewn in a faux satin fabric with a large University of Alabama logo on the chest, this piece of clothing identified him for decades.
My fondest memories are of a tall, raw-boned man who wore lightweight mechanic’s coveralls and that old crimson-colored jacket during cool or cold weather. The image that leaps to mind is spring crappie-fishing season when March and early April winds could be downright chilling. The shiny jacket made him stand out in his flat-bottom boat or waders.
He also wore it when quail or squirrel hunting in the fall and whenever he was outside for work or relaxation. And, of course, he always had it on when watching his beloved football team play on television.
Then came the day when the jacket went missing. Granted, by this time it was torn and ragged, with the padding spilling out in places, and spattered with dried blood from skinning innumerable deer and rabbits. It also had a distinctive fishy and sweaty odor, but he loved the jacket none-the-less.
However, he knew my aunt had her eye on it.
The deed was done in late spring, when warmer temperatures dictated hanging the trusty old garment in the closet. Next fall, he frantically searched but couldn’t find it. He suspected what had happened and confronted my aunt.
She confessed to having thrown it in the trash.
“The old thing was pitiful,” she said. “It was worn out and had holes in it.”
“It was comfortable!” he replied with emotion. But more than this, his jacket was woven of fond memories. Only a fellow domesticated male can empathize with the depths of feeling a man can have for ragged, soiled garment.
For my uncle, it was like losing an old friend. My aunt’s replacement promise failed to assuage his sorrow. Now I find myself in a similar situation.
One day, I will look for the familiar faded orange garment on my side of the closet and find only a bare clothes-hanger. It will happen, mark my words, and sooner rather than later.
There will be excuses, apologies and promises: “The seams came loose in the washer and it finally fell apart; I will get you a new one.” But once the deed is done, it’s irrevocable. I only hope she allows me to give the remains as decent burial.
ν Steve Oden is an award-winning columnist and former newspaper editor. He resides in Tennessee.