When I turned 12, my aunt, the family scribe, gave me a small diary with a red cover. "Write about the things that fill your day," she said.
"Write about what you think and how you feel. Then later on, you can read it and remember how things were."
I wrote in the little diary, sometimes, intermittently, and did enjoy reading the scattered scribbles afterward. Yet daily life became too busy, so the entries were rather few and far between.
And then I found that there are other kinds of diaries recording our events.
It is autumn. The first few shimmers of early morning frost have already dusted grass and shrubs. My trusty lightweight jacket is no longer any match for winds that carry icy nips in their gusts. It is time for Operation Clothes Exchange.
Freshly washed gauzy cottons and light linens are spread out on my bed, waiting in a rainbow row for transfer to their attic hibernation. The closet they have just vacated awaits its winter shift of fleece and wool and down. All these clothes have recorded intervals of my life, accumulated bits of my biography, which I can "read and remember how things were."
There, on one leg of my corduroy pants remains a stubborn stain, souvenir of the pond-side rescue I performed several years ago. A small green heron's spindly legs had become entangled in a mass of muddy twigs. It took many messy minutes to free the frightened bird. And then I watched him fly off safely toward the sky.
My mint-green sweater and charcoal skirt wait neatly on a hanger. I wore them last at a family gathering, where we mourned a revered relative the day after he had passed away.
We let out sighs of sadness mingled with smiles of recollection as we sat around the table, exchanging anecdotes of a kind and wise man's life. Memories of those shared thoughts and emotions, the warming words we spoke, all are interwoven in the fabric of the clothes I wore that day.
A puffy piece of blue down jacket pokes out from its matching nylon bag (called a "stuff sack," I am told). I pull out the jacket and pause to chuckle at the zigzag tear on its sleeve, which even careful stitchery could not completely hide.
The accidental rip was courtesy of Max, our dog. It happened on a glorious winter's day at the beach, with sparkling sun and cloudless sky. I had held his ball high up in my hand, preparing for the farthest throw. But Max, in his exuberance, could not wait. He leaped up toward the ball, his mouth wide open in canine glee. And thus occurred the meeting of Max's teeth and my jacket sleeve – to leave a lasting record of the joy we shared that day.
A collection of clothes creates its own mega-diary; fabrics saturated with events and adventures, sagas and splendors. Sometimes it becomes a travelogue.
My old, worn hiking boots occupy their special spot on the closet floor. They have hiked with me up a Scottish mountain immersed in cloud and over English farmland where cows stood watching me squelch through mud and muck. The trusty boots have trekked with me beside Norwegian fiords and gathered sand in their seams from deserts in New Mexico. Their sturdy soles crunched over snow on Mount Rainier and timidly trod upon volcanic rocks in Costa Rica.
Clothing diaries, like their paper counterparts, can record the progress toward determined goals.
I remember keeping in my closet, over many years, the fancy ice-blue linen dress that I wore beneath my college graduation gown. It represented countless classes and studying long into the nights, of stimulating teachers (and some boring ones), of new ideas and theories, of plenty of food for thought. It contained the culmination of four years' worth of studenthood.
But not always do our efforts bring about success, as my ancient denim skirt and cheery yellow turtleneck bring me to recall. I've worn them as my "comfort clothes" on long walks of many miles while grappling with life's curveballs and unforeseen frustrations. Encrypted in both wool and denim are the dregs of problems faced and solutions sought.
No need to fear that someone else's eyes may read the private diary entries here; clothes are faithful secret keepers. And they can contain, in total confidentiality, more than one individual wearer's tales. I had loaned my ivory silken blouse to a friend, who wore it on a date with her "Mr. Right." No doubt she inscribed some paragraphs of hope and happiness of her own.
Even brand new garment diaries are not completely blank. Each first page already bears an entry, telling how it was acquired – by whom and when, where and why. A soft, peach-colored sweater, nestled in its tissue bed, had been my mother's carefully selected gift, which she gave to me on a random rainy day, "for no special reason – just because."
No matter how often clothes are laundered, how hot the water and strong the soap, memories will not wash out. And so the many "diaries" line up on life's library shelves, bracketed between seasonal clothes-switch bookends. New volumes are added, old ones are removed, and some remain for a long, long time.
Now, on this October day, I close the '07 spring/summer volume and open the autumn/winter one, wondering what sort of stories will be entered next.
"...The moving finger writes; and having writ moves on..." ("The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam").