My grandpa was a spitting, smooth-talking Harley guy. He always had a different woman whenever I was around him and he always had a cigarette in his right hand.
Roy passed away due to old age. And honestly, I barely knew him. I do not know why, but we did not see him that often. I knew him as that Harley guy and that was about it. Yes, I knew he fought in a war, but I have no idea which war it was.
The only people who went to his funeral were my dad and his siblings. When I asked to go, my dad told me to stay home and focus on my schoolwork. That was more important. Along with the funeral came cleaning out my grandpa’s house. Certain members of the family took the things they wanted. My dad got his army medals, which he wound up giving to me.
And yet, those were not the heirlooms that I value the most.
Though my dad was a similar size to my grandpa and thus received the vast majority of his clothing, there was one piece he decided to give to me: a grey pullover sweatshirt with a leather stripe on the front.
It smells like my grandpa’s house and it reminded me of my family history. This single article of clothing, that I never wear, still holds an incredibly important place in my closet and in my life. It is a reminder of my grandparents.
I understand that it is quite odd that I attribute such deep meaning to a sweatshirt belonging to a man I hardly knew, but it is all I have to connect me to my dad’s side of the family. The only sensory feeling I have toward them is that smell—the smell that reminds me of my grandpa’s cigarettes and tattoos. He was a Harley guy.
I would never wear the sweatshirt—I do not care for the style—but the story makes it special. When I think about clothing, I tend to think about the stories that each item holds. Whether it be a sweatshirt from a religious retreat or an American Eagle t-shirt from my middle school days, my closet is filled with memories that help shape my identity.
Around campus, students design clothing, give tattoos and share their stories through creation. They spend their time drafting, cutting and poking. They make memories. Perhaps a student will be wearing a t-shirt she designed when she meets her true love or perhaps a tattoo will start a conversation with a random individual that winds up giving her a job. Clothing, accessories and tattoos are personal, and that is what makes them so important.
The smell of cigarettes and the feeling that scent gives me make Roy’s sweatshirt something incredibly special. It is a piece of clothing that has meaning. That meaning transforms it from an old, musty hand-me-down into so much more. Every spring cleaning, that sweatshirt stays in my closet. I just cannot get rid of it. Clothing has incredible meaning. It is made for the memories.