The Comfort of Old Flannel

The two old sleeping bags were rolled up at the back of an upper closet shelf in the bedroom for most of the time David and I lived in our current house, which is more than 16 years now.

Covered in faded green ducking, each bag had an extra flap of the tightly-woven material at the head. The flap, wrapped all the way around the roll, was secured by green cotton cords sewn into the hem and tied in bows.

Years ago, my family had five identical sleeping bags, one for each of us—Dad, Mom, older sister Rose, younger brother Brian, and me. I don’t remember how I ended up with these two. I probably snagged them right after college. Unzipped, they can be laid out flat like a blanket, which is useful versatility for a young woman stocking her first linen closet.

My family didn’t camp much when I was a kid, and we rarely traveled together, except on day-visits to relatives who lived just a few hours away. But between my junior and senior year of high school, we did take a real family vacation to Cape Cod and camped, all five of us, in a family-sized tent at Peters Pond. If Dad bought the sleeping bags for that trip, then the two bags that were in my closet would be more than 40 years old today.

Over the years, their red flannel interior linings have attained a state of sublime buttery softness, printed all over with cheerful hunting scenes.

The hunter raising his rifle.

Happy dogs, good-hearted and intent.

Game birds rising from the earth.

I do not come from a family of hunters. Still, I was always comfortable enveloped by these familiar images on cozy flannel.

Recently, at the end of a weeks-long project of clearing out my closets and dresser drawers, I came across the sleeping bags stuffed at the back of a high shelf.

I had gone through every item of my clothing, with the intention of cutting my wardrobe in half and giving the excess away. (You can read more about the motivation behind this project in the homily I gave at St. Paul’s on Halloween.) After all my clothes had been dealt with one way or another, there were those sleeping bags, way in the back of a high, deep shelf.

One Sunday at St. Paul’s, our deacon had mentioned that sleeping bags were always in high demand by homeless or semi-homeless people in our area, especially with winter coming on. But, I wondered, would such old-fashioned items really be welcome, even by a homeless person? Especially by a homeless person? It rains a lot around here in the winter, and these babies were far, far from waterproof. After stewing about it for a few days, I ran into the deacon in town and described my old sleeping bags to her. And she said, sure, they will be used. Bring’em in.

So I went home and thought about it. Today my linen closet is well stocked with blankets. I could easily get along without the bags. And I knew that there was probably someone else, someone nearby, who could not say the same.

But, oh, man, could I really let them go? As a teenager, I had done some growing up coccooned inside that faded green ducking. Years later, David and I had made love between those two expanses of soft red flannel, spread out in the back of our old Plymouth Voyager. If I let them go, it wasn’t hard to picture one or both of them filthy, soaking wet, and abandoned in a ditch, too much trouble to get clean and dry.

I hated that picture.

Finally, the question came down to this: How much did I really love these old bundles of fabric, cord, and memory? Enough to allow their soft flannel to offer warmth and comfort a stranger’s body? Enough to let them venture out of the back of the shelf and have a new life?

So the answer came. And so, now, they’re gone. I miss them.

And I pray—Dear God of Love, go with them and wrap yourself around whomever they touch.

And I pray—Dear God of Love, stay here with me, and be here with me when I sleep tonight.

—Margaret

About Margaret D. McGee

Comments

  1. I’m not quite sure how to say this; you made it etremxely easy for me!

  2. A lovely reminder that even though we no longer have use for some of our “things” they may bring comfort to others and the happy memories will still remain with us.

    • Thanks, Vera. Re-reading that piece and seeing the images of the old sleeping bags can still bring tears to my eyes! But they aren’t tears of sorrow … not at all.
      blessings,
      Margaret

Trackbacks

  1. […] more thoughts on grappling with the attachment to material goods, see Margaret’s Bench, “The Comfort of Old Flannel,” and the homily “When Salvation Comes, or, Just Exactly How Many Pairs of Black Pants Do I […]