The Boomerang Cardigan


Mum phones me unexpectedly, mid-afternoon. She is distraught.

“What's the matter?” I implore.

She gulps into the phone. “Tears and rage... I can't even talk. Just tears and rage.”

When she calms down, the story finally emerges. She just found her much-loved handspun cardigan at the local thrift shop.

My mind is blank. How could this have happened?

“It’s yours?” I ask, casting my mind back. “Definitely yours?”

“It’s unmistakable: homespun, stocking stitch and wooden buttons,” says Mum. There’s a pause. “I made it, dear. I should know.”

Then it hits me: a moment of realization. I must have thrown it out, mistakenly putting it in the pile for the op shop.

In rest homes, space is tight. The bedroom can fit little more than a bed, a chest of drawers, a tray-table, maybe a small chair and a tiny closet. For the last five years, I have been in charge of Mum’s clothing. With her passion for thrifting and clothes, the collection constantly grows. I keep half of them in bags in my basement, and the rest are crammed into Mum’s wardrobe and drawers at the home. When the seasons change, we go through them, cull a few and swap them all around.

It’s like running a small branch of Savemart.

“Who would have thrown it out?” asks Mum. “It’s a perfectly good cardigan. Who could do such a thing?” She lowers her voice. “Perhaps it has been stolen and then discarded to be resold?”

I confess. I apologize. I explain what must have happened as best I can and then apologize again.

Mum is relieved that no malice is involved. It was a mere accident, nothing deliberate.

“It wasn't the fact of losing it," she says. “It was the thought behind it; the idea that people were getting rid of my things before I’ve gone.”

I apologize some more.

“It is forgiven and forgotten,” says Mum. “I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

But dementia is perverse. Sometimes the very thing Mum wants to forget is the small bit that she retains.

When I visit her the next day, the homespun cardigan is hanging in her wardrobe. The price tag and receipt are still firmly attached and all her doubts have re-emerged. I explain again and remove the tags.

Mum's still making enquiries about the provenance of her cardigan the day after that.

I decide to change tack and acknowledge that it is completely my fault. Undoubtedly it was.

But her cardigan came back! What are the chances that I would accidently put the wrong item out for recycling and that the bag of clothes would find its way to the very shop that Mum and her friend were browsing? How is it possible that Mum would find her own precious cardigan amongst the sea of discarded garments?

“It is a miracle," I tell her. “The boomerang cardigan!”

Mum laughs. “That’s true,” she says. “The boomerang cardigan.”

Fortunately, my explanation makes a memory this time.

She has forgiven me, but she is still a bit cross. Now she is annoyed with the thrift store employees.

"They priced it wrongly," Mum says. "Only seven dollars! They have absolutely no idea. There was lot of work in that cardigan.”

Sarah Jane is a freelance writer/researcher and part-time caregiver for her mother Eleanor* who has dementia and lives at a rest home nearby. Sarah and her mother spend Saturdays enjoying each other’s company, pottering about and having the occasional adventure. Sarah lives in New Zealand where she writes and speaks about dementia-related issues.

Saturdays with Mum

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My sister and I cleaned out my parents' house FAST after my father died and my mom went to live with my sister,then a year later, my mom came to live with me when my sister moved to Michigan. My mom , who had mild cognitive impairment but not dementia, ( she was in her 90's) became obsessed with a missing fuchsia jacket. She drove me nuts looking for that (blanking)jacket. I finally told her that my sister took it, knowing that my mom would never go to Michigan. I prepped my sister to say that she had it.
Sara Jane, what a delightful story, thank you for sharing that :)

I remember years ago going through some antique shops out in the country... I came across a metal container holding some drinking glasses that had a black horse on each of them, and I just stopped and stared at the set. My gosh, this is identical to what my parents had at home.

I told my parents what I noticed in that shop and it turned out it my parents had donated the set to a hospital rummage sale years prior. Oh how I always enjoyed looking at those glasses as a kid. But the next time I visited that antique shop, the items had been sold :(

Now that my Mom had passed and Dad is in senior living, I am clearing out their house. I am up to my eyeballs in knick knacks, glassware, heavy china dishes, dollies, etc that most will be donated, but I still remember those black horse glasses.
Something similar happened to me when my father died. Mom moved in with us so merging two compete households was impossible. We decided a yard sale was the best thing. Her and I went through things and decided what we could keep and couldn't. Some things we left in the house for whoever would live in it such as Correll ware, Pyrex pans, dining set and a coffee table. Anyway, the problem is that she doesn't remember culling out her own things. When she thinks of something we may need she always says, " I use to have one of those" or "I bet that got put in the garage sale by someone else (me) because I wouldn't have got rid of that " Looking back I guess we had the sale too quickly after his passing, but I did the best I could with no family support. Anyway, my response is usually, "No, I think one of the grand kids needed it and are using that " It grieves me that it hurts her. I must say in my defense, we have a small house full of her things in my house, her room looks like a miniature version of what hers looked like. I put her china on display with mine and her favorite dishes on display in the cabinets. I love her so much.