His first sweater of note was bright red. At two years old, with white hair and blue eyes, he looked like a human flag when he wore it. Since the sweater had The Olympic Rings emblazoned on it, he truly was a banner of sorts. He was dressed like a Herculean athlete because his mother apparently imagined him some kind of Greek god: he had curly blond hair, he was plump, and he bore a Grecian name (Troy). She was proud of her trophy family, dressed in the finest clothes from the finest section of the finest store in Rochester. To her, “the kids” were like stained-glass windows, shining brilliantly in the sun. In reality, they were plaster alabaster icons perched atop too-narrow pedestals, destined to fall and break. In either case, those were “the better days.” Before the divorce.
Today, there are three sweaters in his closet that have been cherished for years like sacred relics on par with The Shroud of Turin. These three sweaters form a trinity of sorts: innocence, experience and wisdom. To be sure, they are not as old as God, yet they are old enough to attend college in their own right. Two of them are special because they are signs of “coming of age”: he purchased them with his own hard-earned money during high school. The third survives because it was a gift from his father. Its brand-label says “Mixed Concrete” but to him that sweater will always be a soft, warm embrace because it’s a reminder that his father does, indeed, care about him.
People wonder why he doesn’t throw those three sweaters out. He’s certainly worn the life out of them. But, to him, discarding those three sweaters would be like tearing God out of his soul.
The grandfather of these three sweaters is a grey cardigan, acquired in 1986 from Winona Knits in Har Mar mall. At the time, he was particularly proud of this purchase. It went perfectly with his grey plaid slacks (that were bundled up at the ankles as if applying a tourniquet to stay the flow of blood to his feet). In its day, the grey sweater was admired by the cool kids. The problem is: it is now officially “past its day” (it is stretched and stained and is missing two of its buttons) yet he is still wearing it. So that makes one more thing official: he’s an old guy now with all the fashion sense of an ostrich.
The second sweater of the Holy Trinity is like the grey cardigan in that it too came from Winona Knits.
(Once, he had heard his friend Jeff say that Winona Knits was a great store. Since Jeff was well-dressed and pursued by women, Troy trusted his judgment and vowed in his heart to buy all his sweaters from that venerated establishment “henceforth and unto eternity.”)
But, though this sweater came from the same Mother as the grey cardigan, it was quite different. This one was a pullover: green with large black squares on the front. He used to wear this sweater with a green striped shirt underneath and green/black socks to match. This outfit elicited more than a few comments from the ladies. (Jeff was right after all.)
The other day he noticed that Mr. Green had been sitting in his closet, rarely entertained in the last five years. To be certain, he has been unable to make up his mind whether he, Professor Plum, should murder Green or not:
“Is Green more like a full-bodied scotch whiskey (worthy of preservation) or more like a radioactive material (take it out and you’re dead)? Or perhaps,” Plum thought, “I have ceased to wear Green-with-Envy weekly because I am now married and no longer require its magnetism to attract ‘babes’.”
So, the other day, he decided to test which hypothesis was correct. Hypothesis number three (the “babe magnetism” theory) went from beaker to drain in a matter of seconds. That left two theories to test out. Here are his findings (scientifically quantified, mind you):
Green is less like good scotch and more like cheap wine: time has turned it into vinegar. He took it off at the end of the day aware that his life was quickly coming to an end (now that he had donned nuclear waste). It even left little fuzz balls on his undershirt!
The experiment was a success, the sweater a failure. The time has now come to dispose of it in a carefully sealed container and deposit it into a deep, lined pit. Just pray the cops don’t find out.
That brings us to sweater number three of the Holy Trinity: “Mixed Concrete.” It’s more beige than grey, really. It has a red stripe across the chest and looks like it’s composed of small rocks that have been skillfully knitted together. Besides the fact that “Mixed Concrete” was a gift from his father, he also loves that his wife wears it from time to time. She looks quite pretty in it. In fact, she pulls it off so nicely that he’s been contemplating just donating it to her collection.
Speaking of his wife…in his freshman year of college he met a special girl and she came home from Christmas break with matching sweaters. One for him and one for her. They were cardigans, black and white flecked, with a big lightning bolt emanating from the right shoulder as if the sweater was designed by Zeus himself. Those sweaters were more than just a means to keep warm in sub-zero temperatures: they were symbols of commitment. So, he wore his with pride. And so did she.
The sweaters were purchased by her in the beloved country she calls “home”: Ecuador, a land whose hillsides often look like they are covered in a diverse collection of thick hand-knit sweaters. His girlfriend (Heather) spent a happy childhood there. So, after the matching “lightning bolt cardigans”, the natural next step was to visit the future in-laws. He traveled by Greyhound bus from Minnesota to Opa Locka and boarded a plane from there to Quito. They had known each other less than a year but “matching sweaters” hint at marriage so this trip was a high priority.
During his stay, “Dad” took them in his Subaru to Otavalo, a pueblo that featured a market that peddled hand-made sweaters from make-shift stalls atop a dirt lot dotted with puddles. Dad bartered the natives down to just 11 dollars each. He could hardly believe it! If he were to buy these sweaters in Winona Knits they would cost 150 dollars each, easy! For mere pocket change, he purchased three. They were thick but he managed to stuff them into his suitcase for the return home.
Even though they were a little on the “scratchy” side and smelled a tad “funny”, the Ecuadorian sweaters made quite a hit back at college in Minnesota. Naturally, his roommates coveted their neighbor’s possessions so he granted them permission to wear his sweaters from time to time, rent-free. To be sure, his generosity at granting such a favor was not completely altruistic. In fact, it was sort of like “free advertising.” Whenever his roommates wore one of those sweaters, people would ask: “Wow! Nice sweater! Where’d you get it from?” Since his roommates were honest mooches, they would say: “Actually, this sweater is Troy’s. He bought three of them in Ecuador last summer.” In this way, Troy was thought of as “cool.” In fact, the “advertising” was so effective that some days Troy wouldn’t even be wearing one of those sweaters and he’d still get looks of admiration: “There goes the guy with the greatest sweaters in the world. Golly, I wish I were him!”
Those sweaters were the best sweaters of his life (and, at times, he has thought those years were the best of his life). But, strangely (without his even realizing it), those years came to an end; and (strangely) the last time he looked for those sweaters he couldn’t find them. It is, indeed, mysterious that he can't find those sweaters because he doesn’t ever remember giving them away or storing them some place secure. Perhaps they got lost in the flood along with his box of collected love letters. Whatever happened, he looked for them just months ago and couldn’t find them. They are part of his collection of lost sweaters.
Another such “lost sweater” was one with an argyle pattern on it. He wore this in high school with socks to match. This was a mistake. Frequently, as he walked down the hallway he’d hear someone shout, short and dense, like a popcorn barker at a baseball game: “ARGYLE!” He’d turn to see who was shouting and saw two guys snickering. They were bigger than him and numbered two. He was smaller and numbered one. So, he figured he’d leave them alone. This happened every time he wore that argyle sweater; consequently, he was quite happy to lose it.
But there was one sweater in particular he was not happy to lose: his grandfather’s. Grandpa died while Troy was in junior high school and, for some reason, Troy got Grandpa’s charcoal black cardigan as an inheritance.
When he reached high school, he began wearing it frequently. Often he would wear it with a pair of brown trousers that made him look like Ward Cleaver, the dad from those black-and-white reruns on television each day. Troy was cognizant that he resembled Mr. Cleaver, but (oddly) this is how he wanted to look. I say “oddly” because the picture was roughly as follows: the trousers were pulled up so high around his waist that, had they been made of rubber, he would have looked like he was preparing to go fly-fishing! For some reason, though, with Grandpa’s cardigan, Troy looked mature.
Perhaps this is because the cardigan was thin and flat and simple. It had a narrow white stripe that ran up the front opening of the sweater and around the bottom. Its buttons were the size of a quarter, and looked like they were made of black pearl. When the light hit those buttons a certain way, they produced a natural kind of glow. Indeed, it was a sweater of understated sophistication.
Earlier in his life, Grandpa was a big, coarse, grease-laden mechanic who was angry at God and everybody else. But shortly before his death all of that changed. Grandpa made friends with God and put on a new outfit: a cardigan of simple elegance. After he changed, he contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease. He died with the dignity of a champion, a truly large man.
When Troy wore Grandpa’s sweater, he too felt dignified, large and mature, yet soft. At times he imagines that sweater is still in his closet (and he can take it out and wear it any day), but at other times he thinks it is gone. He contemplates looking for it, but he’s too afraid that, when he does so, he will indeed find it missing. He’s fearful that, because of his carelessness, his grandfather’s legacy will be shortened. So, he just goes on pretending that it’s still there. That’s one sweater he would never want to lose.