My wife complains about all the closet space I take up with my neckties. I do have lots of them. You see, I have this theory about ties, a theory that was finally confirmed by the guy who sells me my clothes. If you keep wearing the same tie, the tie will refuse to lie flat after a couple of wearings, and you will find yourself continually adjusting it, forcing it back to where it is supposed to lie flat on your chest. Alternatively, if you use the tie sparingly, if you allow the fabric to breathe for at least 4 to 6 weeks between wearings, the tie will last you forever.
Ties also go out of fashion. Or you decide you never liked the tie to begin with. As a result, I used to give my father the ties I no longer wore, bringing them with me on a visit up to Massachusetts so that they could take up space in his closet instead of mine, pushing my wife’s complaints onto my mother.
* * * * *
My father used to wear ties to everything. He also liked corduroy, even during the summer. But of all the ties I gave him over the years, of all the ties that took up so much space in his closet, he only wore three or four. And they were never the ones I liked best either.
Don’t you like the ties I gave you, I asked him?
Yes, he said. I like them very much. Thank you. But I am saving them.
Dad, I said. You are ninety-five years old. What are you saving them for?
* * * * *
Back at the house after my father’s funeral, my mother encouraged her grandchildren to take his clothes. My mother is just as practical as my father was sentimental. She could use the extra closet space. I will give the grandchildren a couple of months, she says. After that, all the clothes that are still in his closet will go to Goodwill.
I take a couple of the boys back into my parents’ bedroom and insist that they each select at least one piece of clothing. My son decides on the bathrobe. My nephews finally choose a sweater each. But they are all reluctant. I feel like we are going through Grandfather’s private things, one of them explains when I complain.
And, no matter how hard I try, nobody goes for a necktie.
* * * * *
Every year on my father’s birthday, back when we were young, my father would receive at least one necktie as a gift, wide ties with the flowery patterns that were then, I suppose, the latest fashion.
He would wear the ties we gave him. I used to think it was because he was such a good father who was committed to honoring the gifts we gave him. Now I am not so sure. I think of his corduroy jackets in the summer and the dark knee socks with shorts. Maybe he didn’t always have the best eye for style.
* * * * *
Back at the house a month or so ago, I go into my parents’ bedroom for a pair of dark socks and find that my mother has not made good on her promise to clear out my father’s things.
My father’s bureau was so old and so distinctive, I always assumed it was a family heirloom, passed down perhaps from their parents. No, my mother tells me. We couldn’t afford much furniture after we built the house. So we went to an auction to buy all this cheap furniture. We planned to replace it when we had more money. That was over 50 years ago.
A Great Depression-era child, my father would still bend over in the street to pick up a penny. He did know how to take pleasure in the smallest of things. Why order French fries at a restaurant when, with a mischievous smile, you could steal a couple from the plate of each of your children? Sometimes we complained. Usually we pretended not to notice.
In my parents’ bedroom, I think of my father standing in front of his closet to decide which tie to wear that day. A towel is wrapped around his waist, and his face is freshly shaven. He has talcum powder on his nose to take away the shine. If you push back the ties, you can see where he measured our heights on the wall just inside the closet. The handwriting is in pencil — slight and careful, like the notations he would make in the margins while reading, because you wouldn’t want to mess up a good book.
Standing on the spot where the rug now wears, he might decide on one of the many ties I gave him that he has never worn before. He goes instead for the dear and familiar. Because sometimes, like the things you pass down from one generation to the next, you take satisfaction in saving nicer things for another day.
I slide the closet door closed, and listen for the sound of my mother stirring in the living room next door. Downstairs in the basement, the furnace kicks in as the electrical circuits begin their cycle again. How quiet in this room, he said, that holds us both.
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