It was 20 degrees in Asheville last night, with the threat of snow. I wore my knee-high boots, a fur jacket and lined gloves to go out to dinner. And, underneath, I wore a turtleneck sweater.
Almost immediately, the sweater started to bother me. It felt tight, hot and uncomfortable.
But it looked good with my winter in the mountains outfit.
I was a turtleneck sweater woman in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I wore them constantly in the fall and winter. I liked how a turtleneck looked with jewelry and belts, and especially how one looked with a business jacket. I bought multiple colors in multiple fabrics: light cotton, polyester and silk. (I am sadly allergic to wool). Occasionally, I would buy a heavier cotton sweater to wear with jeans in a casual sort of way.
In my 50’s, I still liked how they looked, and they also helped to mask the chin which was beginning to sag.
But then I hit my 60’s.
I haven’t purchased a turtleneck in several years. I still have a few of them in my closet, and I wear one when it’s cold and when I know that I won’t have to wear it long. They just aren’t comfortable anymore.
I realized some time ago – and was reminded again last night – that this is exactly what happened to my mother.
Mom was an attractive woman who could wear clothes well, especially in her younger years. She never had the money or inclination to buy a lot of clothes, but the ones she owned were pretty and, as a child, I loved to watch her dress up to go out to a party.
She would put on makeup, tease and spray her hair, dab on her perfume (wrists and neck), wriggle into her stockings (snapping them into garter belts, remember?) and then slip on a dress and high heels. I loved the “show” and how beautiful my mother looked when she finally let Dad see her. He would whistle at her and wink at us.
I remember that she had turtleneck sweaters in her wardrobe that she wore for less fancy events, including shopping trips. I thought she looked very “hip” when she wore them.
In her 60’s, after she lost my dad and began to have health problems of her own, she didn’t have as much interest in dressing up or the money to buy new things. Because I was making a good salary at that time, I bought her clothes on special occasions like her birthday and Christmas.
I remember giving her a beautiful cashmere turtleneck sweater for Christmas one year. She said she loved it.
But when I’d return home to visit, I never saw her wear it.
When I asked about it, she was apologetic.
I’m sorry honey. Turtlenecks just don’t feel comfortable around my neck anymore.
But they look so pretty, I said.
I know they do. I’ll wear your sweater when I go someplace special.
I knew that meant she probably wouldn’t wear it.
I remember being angry with her. Not because she wasn’t wearing my gift. I was angry that she didn’t care enough about how she looked. I wanted my mom to stay pretty.
Now when I look back at those times, I realize how much I didn’t understand about how she felt – not just about the turtlenecks, but about that decade of her life and the next. (She died at 78).
It would be great to be able to sit down with her today, both of us in our 60’s, and talk about life. I’d share with her that I don’t like turtlenecks anymore either and that I’m sorry for wanting her to wear them.
She would probably chuckle.
There are lots of other things I’d like to ask her about being over 60.
I don’t know if she would have any great insights or advice for me, but I bet we’d laugh together about being this age … that is, if we didn’t cry instead!