I am on the move again. Each time I move I shed a few boxes filled with mostly useless possessions, but I still wind up with way too much stuff - a wok I haven't used for years, old photos I will never look at again, a load of heavy cookbooks that have more sentimental than practical value. Certain kept items are non-negotiable, including anything my son ever gave me. These include a rock the size of an egg on which he printed his name and the date when he was five years old, and a small stack of paper placemats on which he earnestly doodled designs and contraptions while we waited in restaurants for our food to arrive.
And then there are the scarves and ties draped carefully over a wooden hanger in my bedroom closet. It is a time capsule of sorts that captures cherished moments spent with my late wife, Kitty.
Kitty without a scarf would be like Saturn without its rings. Early in our 30-year marriage she adopted this swank fashion statement and ran with it. Pluming out under her chin, hanging loosely inside open spring and fall coats, or draped over one shoulder for dramatic effect, Kitty's colorful scarves hinted at her lively personality. Whether blond or brunette - when her hair grew back following chemotherapy, it was the shade of dark roast coffee - her broad array of scarves were a perfect accent to her appearance.
My collection of ties was prodigious, but it didn't quite rival Kitty's stockpile of scarves. I was a salesman for a good portion of my life, not because I wanted to be one, but because it was a good way to feed my family. I had great doubts about my ability to sell, but decided that even though I may be out of my league as a salesman, I was damn well going to look like one. I was always a bit of a clothes horse, so this wasn't much of a transition for me.
But our mutual penchant for dolling up is not the storyline here. Rather, it was the way our lives intersected in pursuit of our earthly possessions.
It was rare that either of us shopped for clothes without the other tagging along. Shopping was just another way for us to spend time together. It was a shared intimacy, no different than attending a movie or preparing a meal together. Even though scarves and ties turned out to be our most enduring material possessions, we paired up for other shopping excursions. Before our son was born Kitty worked a job requiring a dressy wardrobe, and often I'd find myself sitting on a carpeted floor in a department store, back to the wall, waiting for her to put on a fashion show featuring the armful of suits she toted into the dressing room. I honestly don't remember a time when she bought a suit over my veto. And when I shopped for suits, she had similar veto power. She was most concerned with fit. "Hold up your arms," she'd command, checking to see if I had enough room through the shoulders an chest. When others were in proximity during this particular drill, I got a little embarrassed, feeling as though I was being ordered around by my mother.
When tie shopping, we would both roam the half dozen or so tie displays in the men's department, each of us carving a different path. I'm picky, so it was rare that I would find more than a tie or two that matched my tastes. And I'm fast, and so I would always finish earlier than Kitty. I'd come upon her scrutinizing ties with pursed lips, as if there would be hell to pay if she made the wrong decision. One arm was hung with ties that made the cut, and awaited my final decision. Kitty's tastes were always a bit more conservative than mine, but more often than not she found me a winner.
We especially liked shopping when visiting New York. We were as likely to buy scarves and ties on the street as we were in boutiques or department stores. She'd always walk away with at least a couple of scarves from an art and rummage sale regularly held on an Upper West Side school playground on weekends. I have a picture of Kitty standing on a street nearby wearing a calf length copper colored coat with a black felt collar. Around her neck was a loosely tied black sheer scarf shot through with bright gold lines that blended in nicely with her shoulder length blond hair. It is one my favorite scarves, and one of my favorite pictures of Kitty.
When Kitty died she left behind three closet hooks overflowing with scarves. These were among the last of her possessions I gave away. They took on a sacred quality in her absence. I escorted her friends and family upstairs to the hallway closet, each one walking away with one or two as a memento. I gave the majority of scarves left behind to Goodwill, keeping a couple of favorites for myself.
These days I only wear ties to weddings and funerals. I have just a handful left. They rest on the same hanger as Kitty's scarves. This hanger will follow me wherever I go. It doesn't just represent history. It represents a piece of my heart.