A tiny crack splintered through my heart when I hung my grandmother’s skirt up in my closet this Christmas. It’s a red and green plaid skirt that sits perfectly on my hips and floats at my knees, a traveling pants sort of miracle being that I’m 6′ tall and my grandmother was 5′ on a tall day.
The skirt is one of two items I took from her closet when she passed away. The other was a bland oatmeal sweater that smelled like her. I kept that sweater on for days after she died, breathing in her smell even as I laid in bed nights, listening to the sounds that felt all wrong in her house.
But the skirt went unworn. Last year I couldn’t put it on without crying and so it hung at the back of my closet, its red and green merriment lost in a dark corner. This year I was able to wear the skirt with only the slightest quiver in my bottom lip when I looked in the mirror.
I paired my grandmother’s skirt with a green cowl neck blouse, a black jacket zigzagged with zippers, black tights and tall black boots with the skinniest of heels. For good measure I added my favorite leather studded bracelet. I remember my grandmother wearing the skirt, so proper in her heels and nylons and a red sweater on top. She would have laughed and shaken her head at her modest skirt paired with my hints of edginess. A thousand times I wanted to send her a photo. I wanted our pictures to stand next to each other, each of us wearing this magical skirt, her red lipsticked mouth smiling out at my own pale grin.
Every single time I took her skirt out for a spin, I was showered with compliments. I’m not fashionable or trendy in any sense of those words. I’m gangly and awkward and when I can find pants that don’t look like I’m readying for a flood, well, that’s a fashion win in my book.
When I stepped out in my grandmother’s skirt, it was a whole new experience.
“I love that skirt.”
“That is a fantastic skirt!”
“You look radiant in that skirt. It really brings out the color in your cheeks.”
Needless to say, I felt great in that skirt, so great that I carefully put it in my clothing rotation as often as possible. The skirt is so unabashedly red and green that the only possible month to wear it is December and so I decided to make the most of my month with my grandmother’s skirt.
I took it to see ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. I wore it to three Christmas parties. I wore it to the Christmas sing-a-long on the last day of school. And finally I donned it for our Christmas morning church service.
As we read the Communion passage, I held the plastic Communion cup, complete with wafer sealed on top, and swirled the grape juice so that it coated the sides of the cup red. I thought about how Christ’s sacrifice covers my sins and I thought about how if I peeled back the wrapper on that cup and poured it on my skirt, the red wool would soak it up and nobody would even notice. For the record, I didn’t pour it out. I savored the wafer on my tongue and washed it down with the bittersweet juice, running red down my throat.
After church and after all the gifts were opened at my mom’s house, a knot caught in my throat when I hung my grandmother’s skirt up that Christmas afternoon. I ran my hand over the wool and slipped the skirt back into the recesses of my closet. I squeezed into Spandex for a Christmas bike ride. Under a blindingly blue sky and with the taste of Communion still on my lips, I thought of all the gifts I’ve received this past year, both tangible and not.
And I smiled because somehow in spite of her passing my grandmother still manages to give incredible gifts.
In her skirt I felt vibrant.
I felt confident.
I felt beautiful.
And the most magical gift of my grandmother’s skirt is that when I took it off, all those feelings remained.