When my grandfather passed away, I never could have predicted that clothing would be the thread that would connect us years after his death.
My maternal grandpa, Roland “Ron” Kessler (who my family endearingly called “Paw Paw”) was someone with whom I shared many passions—writing, art, music, reading. He and my grandmother, Rose, lived in a house five minutes down the street, but they weren’t anything like the overbearing grandparents I saw on reruns on Everybody Loves Raymond. To me, they equaled my parents or my siblings in our level of closeness. Growing up, I spent countless days visiting their house, where I played with Powerpuff Girls toys, watched Disney films on VHS, learned how to play pool and greedily chowed down on pepperoni pizza Hot Pockets. To this day, I have strong memories of that house and my time with my grandparents…but I don’t recall my grandfather and I ever discussing the clothes on our backs. Not once.
Flash forward to February 2018, when my grandfather passed away on Valentine’s Day (a coincidence my family deemed fitting, given his loving nature). I found myself standing in his bedroom, staring at piles of sweaters, button-ups, scarves, socks and more. “I’m going to donate whatever you don’t want,” my Grandma Rose told me. (I happened to be the only one who was the same size as he was.)
As I scanned the apparel, I realized that I was looking at someone’s entire life scattered across the bed. In truth, I had never paid much attention to Paw Paw’s clothing, but in that moment, I started picking out sweater after sweater, shirt after shirt. Maybe it was a desperate attempt to hold onto him, but still, I carried home those heaving bags of clothes.