Editor’s Pick
MARCH 25, 2011 1:35PM

SPRING CLEANING- TEDDY BEARS AND CHEMO

Rate: 14 Flag

The SweatshirtWhen I sold my deceased parents’ small rowhome in Philadelphia and moved to New York 22 years ago, I took very little with me for two reasons---one, I didn’t have much worth taking and two, I had little space available to fill my new life. My husband and I were beginning our marriage in hospital housing where he was a resident. He had already decorated the place with his leopard sofa, platform bed, kilim, and an inherited mid-Century desk. There was room for me in his heart, but not my parent’s rickety Formica kitchen table.

 I knew that once I settled in New York, I would become assimilated into his family---a large, Jewish, Ivy League educated, highly bonded collection of people with no shortage of opinions or emotions. By contrast, I had two brothers, each addicted to their own brand of drugs and a widowed sister. My mother had gotten as far as fifth grade; my father, who died of alcoholic cirrhosis, was a graduate of trade school. I was ready to move on, begin a new life with nothing but a stuffed suitcase.

         Still, I wanted something besides photographs by which to remember my parents. I found it in my mother’s messy bureau—a white sweatshirt, washed, worn, stained, with a tacky picture of a teddy bear under the words “I Am Loved.” She had worn it frequently after her mastectomy noting how soft it was; she wore it after chemo when her skin had felt itchy and flushed. After she died, my father, began to wear it around the house. He looked ridiculous, but I knew it was his official suit of mourning. He puttered around the house in it, sipped his beer and worked on the backyard roses. It was his way of holding on---which he could only do for a few more years.

So when the time came for me to select a single item on the day I left, I took the sweatshirt to New York and moved it from our small subsidized apartment to our larger rent-controlled one, to our brownstone where there is more than enough space. It’s folded on a shelf next to Sephora shopping bags, designer scarves, above my daughter Isabelle’s artwork. The shirt is comical to Isabelle, who was born 15 years after my mother died.

         Two months ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I took the sweatshirt down and considered trying it on---just to see how comfortable it felt after the surgery. I placed it against my chest, regarded myself in the mirror and knew I didn’t have the nerve. Sentiments and comfiness aside, it was plain ugly. I then considered throwing it away, a vestige of a time past when women like my mother weren’t even offered the option of reconstruction.

 I was happy in my snug jog bra and a v-neck Splendid t-shirt, grateful I had only a small incision and a guarantee of long-term survival.

         I put back the sweatshirt, the teddy bear’s smile, the worn words. If I ever need it, I know where to find it.

        

        

         

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You told that story so objectively. People in the family get cancer, deal with it, and live with it in the best way possible. I like that. I think that sweatshirt is to associated with your parents for you to ever be able to wear it!
Good for you. Sounds like you have a lot of experience at surviving. Best of luck.
congratulations on your good news. you can start your own traditions, and the sweatshirt can still remind you of your folks and their struggles.
Intense story, superb writing and completely understandable ambivalence. Keep it as a talisman against needing it yourself. Here's to your good health!
This is a travelogue of your life, you keep it safe and continue to make the trip worthwhile. Bravo.
First of all, I am so happy for your good prognosis!

After my mother died, I took her slippers and wore them for a year without washing them. I still use her cheap little change purse when I need something small to throw into a backpack with my money and credit cards.
What lorianne said.~r
I missed this last March, but what a treasure! The story, the writing, the sentiment. Beautiful and touching.
Patricia, I'm so glad to have been indirectly led here by you - this is heart-wrenching, poignant, unsentimental, humorous, powerful, beautiful writing. And I can't help but like you, and hope that you will remain healthy and cancer-free from here on. RRR
I liked the way you told us of your loss, your sorrow and your balance in life. Well said.