By Emily Brennan
I love clothes—hats, shoes, sweaters, jeans, scarves—I love it all. There are a few pieces in my closet that have weathered the washing machine, evaded the yearly donations to Goodwill, and crawled back to me after I let my friends go shopping in my closet. These pieces are the veterans of my wardrobe and have a special place in my heart. I have the dress that brings all eyes to me, the shirt that I curl up in when I’m sad, the jeans that forgive the extra cupcake that I eat every once in a while, and the shoes that give me the confidence to strut. I hope that every woman has at least one piece of clothing that makes her feel unstoppable and beautiful. One day as I gazed into my closet, trying to find something to wear, I began to wonder what exactly it is about these conglomerations of cotton, polyester, plastic, rubber, cashmere, silk, or fleece, that make us stand a little taller, smile a little bigger, and help us push through our longest days. I began to ask other women about the threads that make them tread so bravely.
I’ve seen her wear it many times, I saw her wear it last Monday after a weekend with her family; hair thrown into a ponytail, glasses on her face, Birkenstocks at the bottom of her jeans, all topped off with her well-worn purple and green plaid flannel. I’ve been friends with Heather for almost four years and I’ve seen her wear that flannel countless times, I’ve even borrowed it a few times, no surprise given my weakness for a soft and beloved flannel shirts. When I asked Heather what her favorite piece of clothing was, I already knew the answer. “It is a perfect representation of who I am; my soul in clothing form,” is how she described this wardrobe staple. What I didn’t know was that Heather’s favorite item of clothing, her green and purple flannel, was her grandmother Joan’s gardening flannel long before she had called it her own.
Grandma Joan lives in Richardton, North Dakota. Last month, Heather drove 15 hours from Montana to her grandparent’s farm in North Dakota all by herself. Of all the places Heather could have spent her work-free week, she chose her grandmother’s house. After listening to Heather describes her grandmother to me, this pilgrimage she made in the twilight of summer makes complete sense.
Grandma Joan is a strong Catholic German—no stranger to hard work, discipline, and patience. She raised eight children while also working on the farm with her husband, playing the piano, gardening, sewing, cleaning, and cooking. The sound of her grandmother in the kitchen has been prevalent throughout Heather’s life: “I would wake up to the sounds of my grandmother’s wheat grinder in the kitchen when it was time to bake bread, which was an all day event. Baking and cooking has always been my favorite thing to do with my grandma. I especially love when we make my favorite food, Spatzle, which are German noodles.”
Along with her cooking skills Grandma Joan also passed on her sewing and gardening knowledge to Heather, two trades that tend to get lost in a lot of young women today. Heather values these skills passed down from her grandma, but it is apparent that it is the things that Grandma Joan may not have even realized she was teaching her granddaughter that are most esteemed.
“My grandmother is always going, always productive, and still learning new things all the time, qualities I hope to be known for someday. If I had to pick one person that inspires me to be the best woman I can be, it is my Grandma Joan,” Heather reveals.
On a visit to her grandmother’s house years before, Heather borrowed a purple and green plaid flannel as she headed out to help her grandma in the garden. She continued to wear it all week, and “dreaded” the moment she would have to give it back before she headed home to Montana. Her grandmother let her keep the flannel that had served as her shield against fresh soil, flour, and rain for many years and in turn let Heather take a piece of her grandma with her.
“When I wear it I feel more confident in myself, because it was hers. She is the most amazing woman I know,” my friend says as she fiddles with the button on the cuff of her flannel. “I wear my flannel on the days when I feel like I need an all-day hug and I know that everyone is looking at me and thinking about how fabulous I look in my flannel.”