Clothing as memory cues

I recently said goodbye to a few dear friends.

They weren’t people. They weren’t even animate objects. They were a pair of gardening gloves and a rain jacket. Yeah, they were dear to me, ok? Well maybe not the things there were but more about what they represented. Read on. It’s more interesting than you think. Love isn’t rational, ok?

I once lived in the state of Washington. Washington is known for its beautiful scenery including mountains, specifically the volcanoes. Most famous of these volcanoes is Mount Rainier. It’s the highest point in the state and just a few dozen feet lower than the highest point in the country at over 14,400 feet. In 2012, on my second attempt, I summitted Mount Rainier. It was a notable accomplishment given the mountain’s height and the technical challenges involved in doing that safely. Rainier also plays a role my family history. Learn more here about the story of my grandfather and his trip up the same mountain in 1923.

When I first tried to climber Rainier, it wasn’t my first time mountaineering. I had climbed several other volcanoes and high peaks in Washington in the years prior. However, I had drifted away from that hobby at the same time I started a family with my wife. Makes sense, right? I had no time or energy to pursue both at the same time.

However, in my free time as a new dad I did remember a family legend about my grandfather climbing Rainier when he was a young man. He died at age 80 almost 40 years ago so I wasn’t able to ask him for confirmation!

After I was able to confirm that he actually did summit the mountain I thought I’d like to climb it myself to feel more connected to a man I never really knew. I had “retired” from mountain climbing but maybe I could climb just one more??? Yes!

So, I trained and trained and trained and tried to climb the mountain. Unfortunately, in 2011 bad weather turned me and my fellow climbing team members back about 2/3 the way up the mountain. I came back in 2012 and I was able to summit the mountain and return down safely. That was truly the last mountaineering trip for me.

So, why am I sad about some gloves and a jacket? Well, simply put, they were some of the most important items I wore on my Mount Rainier trips and they hold special significance.

The gloves: Gardening gloves were actually my “mountaineering gloves”. They were suggested to me by a friend who said I didn’t need anything on my hands that was made by a high-end gear company. The $14 pair sold at the gardening store would do just fine. They were more than fine. They had the grip and warmth I need for the trip. Turns out I had a dirty pair already from pulling wheels and shoveling dirt at my house.

Here’s what they look like now after being just gardening gloves since I left the mountain in 2012:

The jacket: I bought a very expensive jacket from a Patagonia clothing store in Seattle around 2005 because it was a high quality piece of gear (I thought) and it looked really cool (I knew this for a fact!). A couple of years later that jacket started to leak water when it rained. I went back to the Patagonia store and I said it was defective. I then exchanged it for a new jacket for no extra cost. A year or so later, that jacket started leaking in the rain. I went back to Patagonia and, yes, I exchanged it for a new jacket! That jacket was the one I wore up the mountain along with a few other mountains.

Here’s how I found that jacket a few weeks ago.

It was so worn out that it literally fell apart from its own weight. I had been using this jacket in semi-retirement for the last several years as my “camping jacket”. It was a jacket that could continue to get even dirtier than when I retired it. It’s no longer a rain jacket since there’s a large hold in the back where I used to hang it up.

Goodbye old friends. We had a good time together, didn’t we?

p.s. I still have my crampons from that trip but I’ll not likely be wearing those around the house!



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