Sunday, September 26, 2010


It's time. The earth has revolved enough that it is now time for flannel. I'm talking flannel shirts and flannel sheets and flannel PJs. And this move to the warm and fuzzy fabric is one I savor every year.

It helps that autumn is my favorite season. It helps that, late each summer, I start yearning for the day I can pull out my favorite shirt: a red flannel long-sleeved shirt that has been slashed by branches while hunting, that has been worn and washed so many times the cuffs are fringed, that has buttons replaced at least three times, that has a collar worn to incredible softness. Is it time yet for my red flannel shirt? Is it? Is it?

Well, now it is and I'm loving it. I adore the cool mornings and chilled evenings of September. I adore the warmth my red flannel shirt grants me.

Flannel is an interesting, and old, fabric, one commonly associated with manly men like lumberjacks and farmers. Grunge rockers and skateboarders now wear plaid flannel as fashion statements. I read that there are clubs whose sole requirement for joining is to be "plaid clad" (wearing flannel) on Fridays.

Growing up I liked flannel because, like corduroy, it meant school was starting (which I liked), hunting season was starting, and, most of all, jumping into bed would be a cuddly adventure. My mom was quite precise in our seasonal swap-outs of percale sheets for flannel, of seeksucker pajamas for flannel, of shorts and sun-tops for jeans and flannel shirts. It was a ritual I always savored, providing regularity, predictability in my universe.

My red flannel shirt has been a favorite, not just because of the one I have, but because of those of others. My dad's flannel shirts were a constant in cooler weather, usually meaning that something fun was about to happen, like a trip to the wheat fields near Aberdeen, or a trek to the grouse country of Arbon Valley, or even a drive to the dump, a place filled with mysterious treasures! A mentor in graduate school, a distinguished PhD, rose highest in my esteem, not in his cap and gown for graduation ceremonies, not in his shirt and tie for teaching us about "Paradise Lost," but in his red flannel shirt and tough pants for trekking the hills south of town. Now that's what a real Renaissance man wears.

This isn't the first time I've waxed poetic about a shirt. A poem in my book, The Silence of Bright Star, tracks the adventures of a periwinkle fleece shirt my late husband wore non-stop, so much so that most pictures of him were in that shirt.

After he was gone and
his family wept over boxes
and books and clips of his image,
his mother asked,
"Didn't he have any other shirts?"

He did, but not like this one.

That poem tells how I now wear that shirt, knowing that its fuzzy warmth, stoutness, gentle touch will make the cooler season quite palatable. Fleece really does want to be flannel, don't you think?

Following my mom's model, I'm now doing the seasonal swap-outs in my closets, pulling out the wonderful flannel nightshirts (including the one my daughter made me, white flannel printed with cows wearing leather biker jackets), the snuggly sheets (cheerily stamped with mittens and hats in blues, pinks, and purples), and, of course, that precious friend of mine for years, the red flannel shirt.

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