By Sarah Jane
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.”