It’s morning in late November and through bleary eyes I sense slivers of daylight trying to sneak into the bedroom along the edges of the window shades. “Hugo, it’s time to drag your sorry behind out of the sack and take on the day.” Big yawn. I stand up and realize I can maintain a vertical stance. I intend to stay that way for the day.
My next decision: What to wear? I head to my bedroom closet to peruse my rather spartan (I suspect by most men’s standards) wardrobe and look at my work clothes. Perhaps a pair of paint-splattered Dickies denims and a flannel shirt. Warmer weather would dictate work shorts and T-shirt but those items will have to hibernate for a few more months.
For no particular reason I pluck a navy blue flannel shirt with a herringbone pattern. I am not the original owner of the shirt. It belonged to my late father-in-law Elmer Jantzi. My wife Karen recognizes it as a gift she gave to her father for Christmas: a brand spanking new shirt off the shelf — given with love and worn by a loving father.
That shirt is now a far cry from the condition it was in when I inherited the garment after Elmer died in 2007. Somewhat faded, the body is intact, but oh my, the collar and the cuffs are showing the ravages of time. The shirt could well be 15 or more years old. The condition of that collar would lead one to believe the hairs on my neck are like the filaments of a wire brush.
I don’t know if Elmer wore it as a work shirt, but I have, as evidenced by the splatters of white paint. However, I think it can be said that Elmer would not have been seen in public with that ragtag shirt. Of one thing I have no doubt: I wear it in honor of a man who treated me like a son.
It has been said that we sometimes walk in the shoes of others. I would like to expand on that notion with this little gem: We sometimes walk in the threads of others.
If it is winter when I’m wearing Elmer’s shirt I will often don some extra fiber to stave off the chill and that would be a less-than-navy blue cardigan with a woven multi-pattern structure to it. Threads the color of cognac and black ink accent the solid color along the edges and waist.
The garment belonged to my late father Al, a plumber, poet and wise man. Dad wore it for many years in his home and during the last two and a half years of his life as a resident of an assisted living center. When I look at the label on the collar I see a small white tag sewn on it: Al Hugo. It’s SOP so residents’ clothing doesn’t end up in the wrong closets. “Hey, Al, why are you wearing my slacks?”
Overall, the sweater is in good shape. There is a small tear in the collar and just now, as I write this I notice black thread, indicating it was mended at some point. Perhaps I could use my rudimentary skills with needle and thread to repair it and sew on two buttons that broke free.
I wear the cardigan along with the memories I have of my father.
Before I go any further with what you may think is the beginning of a sad sack story of hand-me-downs worn by a septuagenarian, you should know that I am the eldest of seven children. If you can lay claim to such a sibling lineage you probably know, among other things, what that means. No hand-me-downs, right? On the other hand, some in the group might have groused, “Why does Phil always get the new clothes?” Hey, I didn’t choose to be the firstborn!
My late brother-in-law Steve Yoder was a pastor at First Mennonite Church in Bluffton. After he died his wife Janet gave me one of Steve’s brushed twill shirts with a black and ochre pattern of squares. It was a good choice for a man who was raised on a farm.
When the shirt came into my closet it was intact. No worn collar. No torn sleeves. All buttons intact. Now it is the opposite, i.e. a well-worn work shirt. I doubt Steve would have worn
a shirt in such a condition for Sunday service, but if he did, I suspect he would have used it as a metaphor for our lives. Sometimes tattered and torn, but still worthy. Do not cast off hope and faith. Or charity for that matter.
A couple of years ago I attended a music set at ArtSpace Lima, where I saw my friend and fellow artist David Cottrell. As we greeted each other, he inquired of the shades of charcoal and white sport coat I was wearing. “Is that George’s?”
I replied that yes, it had belonged to the late George Heffner. David had been a student of George’s when he taught at Lima Senior back in the day. I was given the jacket, along with George’s black beret, after he died.
I met the Heffners shortly after I moved to Lima in the 1970s and our mutual interests as students of nature helped forge our friendship.
Unlike the other clothing I have mentioned, George’s apparel (I’m wearing it as I write these words) is, after perhaps a half century or more of being worn by friends, still intact. They are part of my casual wear wardrobe. Oh yeah, I have one of George’s wooden canes I can use should the threads that hold me together become frayed.
I have no plans to give these hand-me-downs to anyone else so I guess I’ll keep on walking in the threads of others, enjoying the memories they have given me, one foot in front of the other. Thank you!
Phil Hugo lives in Lima.