By Diane Lowman
I am putting winter away with a wistful mixture of joy and sadness; this may be my last winter in the house I’ve called home for 18 years, where my children grew up and my marriage fell apart. Where I now live, alone, banging around in a too-big space like a ghost, haunting only myself.
I am putting winter away with a ritual I relish. When I sense the temperature start to change, it’s time for me to put away one set of scarves and welcome the new season with another. I wear a scarf every day. Rain or shine, hot or cold. I keep them in a set of macramé-wrapped hanging rings in the front closet for easy access. At the last frost and the first crocus, I take the warmer, bulkier ones down, admiring their hues and recalling how I came by each one.
The winter scarves will go in the wash together; the swirling soapy rainbow washes the season away. This relentlessly harsh winter brought snow and subzero temperatures that beat down even the hardiest of us. I am not sorry to bid it adieu and welcome the seemingly reluctant spring.
Still warm, I fold the scarves carefully. Symetrically. And stack them, colors coordinated, all ready to go in the enormous Ziploc bags currently holding their lighter counterparts hostage in the cedar closet in the basement. When I retrieve those diaphanous spring scarves I imagine they have their own stories — they are happy to be out of the dark; ready for action in the cool spring air. These scarves, which have enveloped me for 18 years, have born silent witness to my stories.
My mother and I found the light blue one with yellow feathers during our trip to New Orleans to celebrate her 75th birthday. We could not know then that she only had two birthdays left. “Is it too much?” I had asked her (I count myself amongst the women who need conspirators to shop).
“Not at all!” — She loved it. “You can hardly see the skulls when it’s wrapped around your neck.” She always loved to have time alone with me and my sister, and it made her happy that I asked for her opinion. She bought the scarf for me; I knew she longed, like I do with my own children, to take care of me still.
The long, silky teal and purple scarf is from Rue La La. I never wear it because it’s “special.” It was expensive for me, albeit deeply discounted. I have been saving it. For what, I don’t know. Maybe I don’t feel I deserve to wear it. It feels so “grown up;” so fancy. I have been primarily a mother for so long that it’s hard to see myself as anything else. With the boys grown and gone, I know I need to try on new roles, but every time I put that scarf on I feel I’m playing dress-up.
Mom bought me the black and grey silk oblong one from China. The red characters that run vertically up and down its length may offer up some fortune-cookie wisdom about life, which I could use now. Perhaps the characters outline what the next chapter of my life will look like, but the message is shrouded in mystery. I can no more decipher them than I can make my future out in my mind’s cloudy crystal ball.
After I put the winter scarves away, I arrange the light spring ones by color as well, fold them into thirds and hang them in the woven rings in the front of the closet, ready for spring. I am well aware that when the next crisp fall chill fills the air I might be storing these wispier wraps in another home, another place.
At each transition I shed scarves that no longer serve me like a snake molts skin it outgrew, and does not look back. I try not to get caught up in the sentimentality of their stories. I wish I could look toward this new phase of life with such serpentine aplomb. I try to adhere to the adage of “If you haven’t worn it in a year, toss it.” But for each one I jettison, I buy a new one, and create a new story.
As I will have to when this house sells; already there is an offer to a new family to buy the space we’ve largely vacated and I’m mostly just heating and cooling. I wander through the rooms now, scavenging for items I can donate in an effort to lighten the load.
I have made so many trips to Goodwill of late that they know me. “Thank you for supporting our mission,” they smile and wave as I drive away, sure that I’ll be back soon.
What must they think of my life’s leftovers? My items are junk to them but each speaks of my life’s moments. Of the endless hours I spent building K-nex creations with the boys when their dad walked out, to distract them and myself. Of fingers that bled sewing the gold and brown toile cushion covers and matching pillows of the small bench myself, that I love, but no longer need. There’s no one to sit on it any more.
I don’t donate my scarves, I will keep my stories; they are inside of me, not forgotten in this house. I look to that moment when the house sells with an ever-changing combination of liberating anticipation and crushing dread. And as I sit on the floor folding and stowing, I wonder what these lighter scarves and the years to come have in store.
Author’s Note: Facing the empty nest can be challenging, emotional, and exhilarating, especially when you are doing it as a single person and not a couple. Selling a home, moving and having your children leave home really add up on the stress scale. But such change can also present wonderful opportunities for personal growth and development.
Diane is a single mother of two young adult men, currently living in Westport, CT. In addition to writing, she teaches yoga, provided nutritional counseling, and tutors Spanish. She is looking forward to what’s next.