I hung the old sweater on the back of my office chair when we first moved to our new house. It was not an arbitrary action. I knew when I unpacked the article of clothing where I would put it because it has been a part of my office for the last two decades, in home after home, hanging on that same chair for years.
Compared to other places where I have written, my office is private and spacious. Separate from the house, attached to the garage, it’s about 12 by 15 feet, room enough for a desk and a day bed, filing cabinets, fold-up table, and a few other odds and ends that didn’t fit in the house. On the walls are a couple of original paintings from friends and a bulletin board covered with old photographs.
There is a small heater at my feet because the room is drafty; and along the wall are bookshelves, filled with some of my favorite novels as well as a few writing aids, a dictionary, thesaurus and a book of poems by Mary Oliver. This room is the place of my own where I go to write.
I found the sweater years ago when I was helping my parents move. They weren’t going far, just over a couple of streets, but the transition required a fair amount of downsizing. Home from graduate school, I was in charge of the garage sale, and in the sorting and selling I found it. Tattered and frayed, straight out of the ’60s, it is gray, trimmed in black and dotted with small dark patches of color. Wool and itchy, I didn’t salvage it because it was comfortable. I kept it, folded and set aside, because I remember my father wearing it.
A Baptist minister, almost always in shirts and ties, suits with jackets, he didn’t wear a sweater all that often. In fact, he wore one, he wore this one, only when he was home, off duty, accessible to his family, relaxed. It is the sweater I recall wrapping myself into as I sat on his lap happy to have him home, happy to have his attention. It reminds me of what it means to be loved, to be cherished.
It’s in my office, hanging on the chair for that very reason. It’s risky, you see, to call yourself a writer, to take yourself seriously enough to designate a corner or a room just for your craft, to buy a desk and a chair, a computer, close a door, separating you from the rest of the world.
To do such a thing as write a story, one needs to be brave. So I keep the sweater, my father’s sweater, the old, tattered and frayed one, hanging on the back of my office chair because I remember what it means. I remember how it felt, and some days it grants me the courage I cannot summon on my own.