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Essay: Brown Sweater

Essays by Karen Anderson.png
Illustration by Kacie Brown

Glancing down, I see a bug on my sweater—but no, it’s just one of a million little balls of wool that have pilled up on this ancient garment. And as I look more closely, I am suddenly and properly embarrassed.

How can I wear this ugly old thing? The cuffs are crusty with food, the sleeves fuzzy with cat hair, and the pockets stuffed with Kleenex. It is the most disgusting sweater on the planet, hands down, and I put it on every day.

I don’t have to tell you why. It’s comfortable, that’s why. Warm and cozy and familiar. And, of course, mostly invisible to me who lives on the inside.

Why has no one in my household asked me to abandon this grotesque relic? Probably because other members of my family have similar items in their wardrobes. None quite this bad, perhaps, but close.

You’ll have to take my word for it that this L.L. Bean “field sweater” was once rather handsome—a rich brown zip-up cardigan with a snug collar and patches on the elbows—a gift to myself when it was featured on the cover of the catalog.

But I never bought it to make a fashion statement, only to keep me warm. To welcome me with open arms and grungy cuffs, a little the worse for wear. Also better.

Karen Anderson is a writer who lives and works in Traverse City, Michigan. She was a columnist for the Traverse City Record-Eagle for 30 years and published two collections.