Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Keepers: clothes with the soul of memories

"And how can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?"
Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

And, I'd like to add, they still live in the clothes they leave behind.

It was the summer of 1974, I was visiting my aunt and uncle in a small California beach town, so different and more exciting than my home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were party givers, fun casual outdoor parties. I remember lots of sun and the luxury of ocean breezes, unlike the stifling humidity of the Deep South. One of their friends was there with her son who was my age,16. He was tall, thin, with shoulder-length straight white-blond hair. It had that crazy stiffness of someone who swims a lot. We chatted, turned out he was a surfer and I was smitten. My first love.

We spent almost every day together that summer. Driving from beach to beach in his well-worn VW bug with his surf board on top. And at night we went from house party to house party. We kissed, we held hands, we danced to the Beach Boys. We sang the lyrics to "California Girls", especially "And the Southern girls with the way they talk. They knock me out when I'm down there." I felt like a surfer girl, even though I didn't surf.

As it does in a thousand songs, the summer came to an end. We made plans for the next summer. We promised to write. The summer might be over, but not our romance. He gave me this blue Hawaiian shirt, his favorite. I treasured it and slept in it almost every night when I returned home to Baton Rouge, thinking of him and dreaming of when we would be together again.

I did go back the next summer and we did have a few dates. But the mood had changed and we felt distant. He was skateboarding now and that's all he wanted to talk about. Doing cool moves in empty swimming pools with his buddies and photographing them for Surfer magazine. We drifted apart and had our separate adventures that summer. He was different, I probably was too.

Three years after our summer together, he died. A friend wrote to tell me. He had been with friends in a remote part of Mexico, had appendicitis and couldn't get medical help in time. It was raining when I read the letter. We hadn't seen each other for a while but I was still in love with the surfer boy I first met.  I've kept his Hawaiian shirt for 43 years. It embodies first love, a dreamy summer and the bittersweetness of losing someone you love.

The above musing was inspired by this book, "Worn Stories" by Emily Spivack. It's an enthralling collection of short essays by actors, writers, designers, artists and culture makers.

We all have some special and meaningful clothing item saved. What's yours?