It's been a MONTH since I posted! Forgive me: busy season. I'm just warming up.
Pale blue-and-white striped flannel, floor length. Not too heavy, no real signs of wear. I pulled the crumpled robe from the donation box for the thrift shop. A little blue-and-white striped ruffle around the collar, but nothing too “girly”. I looked out the windows to see if anyone was watching me sort the giant box of cast-off clothing. I slipped one arm in a sleeve, and the other. I tied the belt and smoothed my hands down the front, and did a little dance. The flannel seemed brand new. I walked back into my apartment to the full-length mirror. Perfect.
I’d not owned a bathrobe as a child—bathrobes were Extras, and my brothers grew too fast for my family to buy Extras. Why buy a robe when a hooded sweatshirt makes a passable extra layer? In a pinch, my mother’s ratty terry robe would do for a dash to my bedroom, as long as I brought it back to its assigned hook in the bathroom.
My mother was happy to buy me a giant plush bathrobe, in emerald green, for my first Christmas in college. My dorm room was drafty, I said, and I’d been craving this bear-like robe. The inch-thick pile felt exotic, heavy, satisfying. When I returned to school I flaunted my prize, strutting down the hallway. Dust balls collected around the hem within minutes, and lint, and talcum powder. I couldn’t wash my hands or face while wearing the robe because it was too big and got in my way. So I couldn’t wear it to the bathroom, or from the shower. The cuffs bunched under my wrist when I tried to write at my desk. The robe wasn’t functional for anything but sitting, so I cuddled in the emerald fur robe to read in bed. Each time I moved I left a scattering of emerald fur where I’d been sitting. As a final insult, when I walked the dorm halls in my fabulous robe, my neck ached from the weight of it. On cold nights I threw the robe over my blankets, glad for the heaviness. I packed the behemoth around for another year, unable to part with the idea of coziness and warmth, and then I bequeathed it to someone who admired it, a sad parting from my bathrobe dream. I bought long underwear and dressed in layers, instead.
Years later, my first fulltime job required me to live in a college dorm, a life I relished. As May finals approached, my dorm residents began packing their rooms up to spend the summer at home. A tall box labeled “clothing donations” appeared in the lounge across the hall from my apartment door. Every day the box filled a bit more, until the box overflowed and clothing piled up around it.
Students offered their final goodbyes. My days were filled with meetings and year-end celebrations. No one picked up the box. On the third day, I told myself I was “sorting.” I folded stuff, starting with the pile outside of the box. I paired shoes and tied their strings together. I buttoned shirts. And then I found the robe. After I tried it on, after I saw its perfection in the mirror, I hung it on the back of my bathroom door and stroked it. Then I went back to the thrift shop box, folded all the clothes neatly against the wall, and gleefully found a good pair of jeans in my size, also. One day the stacks of clothing were gone, along with the donation box, and I forgot about it.
When students returned in the fall, I wore my perfect bathrobe to answer a knock at the door. Deb McMahon paused for a moment before speaking. “I gave that bathrobe to be donated to the poor,” she said.
I blushed and stammered, then smiled at my student friend. “How much do you think college residence directors make?” And we laughed, though she looked skeptical. “I donated some of my things to the poor, too, to make up for the robe that was clearly meant for me. But if you want, I’ll find the charity and send a cash donation for the robe.” She agreed the robe was flattering to me. She’d already bought herself another. She decided she could live with my thievery.
Last year I asked my husband for a new robe, a flannel one, for Christmas. The pattern I wanted was out of stock, leaving animal print and lime green polka dot options. On a whim, I pointed to a different ad: a blue chenille robe with giant pink, yellow and green chenille coffee mugs down the front. Warmth, I thought. Coziness. I opened the gift on Christmas and lifted the blue chenille from of the box: heavy. With sadness I tried it on: cute, in a giant-chenille-barn sort of cute. The robe was cute when I was not wearing it. Enormous cuffed sleeves bunched under my wrist when I sat down. And it made my neck ache. Back into the box it went, with its adorable chenille coffee mug designs. I hated to see it go. My worn old blue and white striped robe would need to “do” for one more season.
This year I jumped on the winter clothing catalogs early, chose a flannel robe in a nice pattern, and found a discount coupon. I demanded that Scott order the robe in October, while it was available. On Christmas when I opened the package, I spied the fabric pattern—beautiful. I ripped open the plastic—soft, very soft. And I slipped in one arm, and another, tied the belt. I walked to the mirror to check it out. Perfect. When I wash it, the flannel will become even softer and fluffier, even more “just right.”
Today I carefully fold the blue-and-white-striped flannel robe to put it in the box I’ll take to the thrift shop. The outside collar is torn and frayed. The inside collar stains will not wash out. The belt loops hang by threads and the belt will not flatten. I picked that robe from the giveaway box 20 years ago, half a lifetime ago, on the other side of the continent. I packed that robe for my job in Pennsylvania, where I lived in a drafty farmhouse for the winter. I wore the robe through my newlywed year, and through the years in the unheated summer home. I wore the robe when I nursed babies, and for ten years since. I remember, now, the flannel quilt kit I gave my children for Christmas. The quilt includes four layers of flannel, and this robe might not be fit for the quilt top, but it would make a fine filler. I pull the robe out of the thrift shop box. It simply resists donation. Such a good robe.
I will send something else to the thrift shop in its place.