The other day, I was tidying up our bedroom and came across a brown wool cardigan my late mother-in-law had knitted for her husband. For some reason, she ended up wearing the cardigan herself. It doesn’t button up and it has two pockets. I remember her wearing it around the house frequently. When she passed away, my father-in-law took to wearing the cardigan himself around the house and in the garden. It held up well. When he passed away, the cardigan came to me.
I’m surprised I still have it, actually. I’m surprised none of the kids have taken possession of it. I can imagine one of my daughters treasuring it—possibly even my son. There’s a small hole in the right arm. I can imagine it got snagged on one of my father-in-law’s roses. He had one planted in the garden that he’d taken from his childhood home; the original rose had belonged to his mother. He always talked with a great deal of love for his mother. I never met her. Sadly, she died when my husband was a teen.
My father-in-law kept a small watercolor hanging behind his desk of a cavalry soldier astride a handsome horse. “I had a horse like that, once, when I was in the military,” he told me. An Oldenburg, a German warmblood originally bred as carriage horses, they often had long legs and arching, high-set necks, perked ears and great intelligence. When off duty, the soldiers took their army horses home, and my young father-in-law did so with pride. He considered himself very lucky to have received such a fine mount. His father admired the handsome horse—but required that it earn its keep on the farm.
One day in late summer, while my young father-in-law attended school, the horse was hitched to a wagon used for the potato harvest and taken out into the fields. The elegant warmblood detested horseflies, and when one bit him, he bolted. Across the field, down the road, and through the cobblestone center of Zofingen, the horse galloped. I picture the wagon careening dangerously behind him—its load of potatoes long scattered. It ran until it either exhausted its fear or energy.
My father-in-law’s father wasn’t amused by the incident—luckily no one was injured. “I returned the horse to command the very next day,” my father-in-law told me, shaking his head. Most of us have known what it’s like to hold something we prize and admire only to have it slip away.
This morning, I put on that brown cardigan, and when my hands went into the pockets, my fingers found an ironed and folded handkerchief. It’d belonged to my mother-in-law who’s been gone nearly 20 years, now. She always carried a handkerchief—kept a stack of them in a cabinet by the dining table. How many years did my father-in-law wear this cardigan, finger the handkerchief as I’m doing, now?
It’s a little bit of heartache, missing my in-laws. Fine people. Fine pockets of memories.