I have an old sweatshirt—very old—frayed at the collar, stretched at the waist, threadbare at the elbows. Its original khaki colour, now faded, is spotted and spattered with stains, reminders of bygone games of a younger day—softball in the summer, flag football in the autumn. Hardly discernible, though once printed boldly across the front, are the words Property of the Hockey Machine, a team I played for in my long-ago youth.
Despite the hundreds of launderings it’s endured over the years, brownish blotches—long-dried blood from one cut or another—speckle the sleeves. Grass stains, acquired after multiple falls and spills, add their random pattern to the cloth. A few holes, too small to stick my pinkie through, but growing, pock the fabric near the neck and waistband.
These days, for eight months of the year, the sweatshirt lies forgotten in the bottom of a drawer in my closet. But when fall begins to give way to another winter, when it’s too cold to be out and about in a summer-light shirt, I rummage around for it, knowing it will be there, just as it has always been.
There’s no ceremony when I find it, no ritual, no welcome for a long-absent boon companion. I simply pull it out, slip it on, and go. Although clean when stowed away each spring, it still surrounds me comfortingly with the faded, familiar smells of male sweat, grass, and liniment. It’s comfortable, it’s warm, and it fits. When I put it on for the first time each autumn, it’s as though I had never packed it away.
Some of my acquaintances stare a tad too long when they see me approach, proudly clad in my sweatshirt. “You still wearin’ that rag?” one might say.
Another might add, “Why don’t you try wearin’ it inside out?”
“I think he already is!” the first might reply, cackling gleefully.
They probably wish the sweatshirt was theirs, so their raillery bothers me not one bit.
My wife, however, cringes visibly whenever she sees me wearing it outside the house. Inside, I never leave it where she might get her hands on it. I mean, why risk what she might do?
This old sweatshirt, this relic of my youth, has become a fond reminder of a time when I was younger, stronger, quicker—when everything seemed possible and within my reach.
I simply cannot let it go.
Similarly, I have an old friend of more than sixty years’ standing. When we were young and single, still living at home with our parents, we spent uncounted hours in each others’ company. We played, we went to school, we took summer jobs together. We talked on the phone—offering advice to one another, confiding our innermost secrets, fears, and dreams to the one pal we knew would never let us down. We passed from adolescence into young manhood together.
With adulthood, though, things began to change. We chose different schools to attend after high school, and divergent careers to follow upon graduation. In due course, we married our high school sweethearts and began to move in different circles. Children took up a great deal of our time and energy, curtailing the social opportunities we once enjoyed. We lived in homes far removed from each other.
And as a result, we stopped spending a lot of time together.
But faithfully, year after year after year, right after Christmas, we would join each other for a few days with our young families at my old friend’s cottage. Tucked cosily in the snow-blanketed woods, nestled on the shore of an ice-covered lake, the cottage was warmed by a blazing fire, the laughter of children, and the comfort of a shared friendship with all its memories and love.
It was never the same as once it had been, not with our wives and children sharing the space and the good times with us. It was only late at night, by the embers of the dying fire, that we seemed to have time to talk as we used to. With the others abed, we’d hunker down as in days of yore and talk our hearts out.
Interestingly, there was never any emotion-charged greeting between us when we arrived—no boisterous welcome, no demonstrative renewing of the old relationship. We seemed, simply, to resume an ongoing conversation that had been briefly—but only temporarily—interrupted. The flow of friendship followed a familiar pattern every time we were reunited, a veritable rhythm of life.
My old friend is warm, he’s time-honoured, he’s absolutely trustworthy. He’s always been there, and he abides to this day. I slip into his comfortable embrace as easily as into my old sweatshirt—and with the same joyfulness.
Eventually, I know, both will be lost to me, or me to them. But until that time, I will rejoice each time we renew the bonds.
I love that old sweatshirt.
I treasure my old friend!