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Through Sickness and Health
It was winter, 1986, and I had just arrived as a freshman to UMass, Amherst. Being from Connecticut I was used to the cold, but it was somehow different being far away from my parents. Bundled up in my parka, hat and mittens, I headed to my 9 a.m. anthropology class.
The snowflakes fell gently, occasionally landing on and tickling the tip of my nose. I could see my breath as I trekked through what seemed like 4 feet of snow. My toes and finger tips began to tingle quickly so I decided to stop off at the student center’s Blue Wall to grab a latte.
The Blue Wall was a campus landmark for lattes. It was the 80’s version of Starbucks. “A small latté with one sugar," I yelled to the barista who had asked for my order. Thankfully the coffee line was not long, but the place was still loud. I guess the snow kept most students inside.
I grabbed my latté, paid and hurried out the door. When I got outside of the Blue Wall, my eyes fell upon the most amazing thing—amongst the rows of vendor who typically displayed their art for sale in the student center, sat the most beautiful display of hand knit sweaters. In an array of colors, lengths and styles, I knew immediately which one would complement my collection of clothing back in my dorm room. The vendor caught me assessing her handiwork—the stitches, the pattern she had used, the softness of the yarn. I was in awe of an off-white, mid-length one.
“$40”, said a gentle voice, “or your best offer." I smiled at her, reached inside my parka and pulled out my money. I counted $15. I couldn’t possibly offer her this, I thought. I responded, “I will have to come back later, ma'am, I don’t have enough money with me right now. I only have $15."
“No problem. It’s yours, please. $15 is fine. I want you to have it."
“It will last you years in this Amherst cold and it will always protect you from the elements." I graciously thanked her as I handed her the money. She gently wrapped up the sweater. “Many blessing to you, my dear, and happy holidays," she whispered as she handed the sweater to me. With my new sweater and one sugar latte in hand, I hurried off to class. No longer were my toes and fingers feeling tingly.
Later that day when I got back to my dorm room, I unwrapped my sweater and held it up to myself and looked in the mirror. I was very proud of my purchase and excited to wear it. Needless to say, 27 years later I still have the sweater, and on cold wintery days I wear it. It was with me when I turned 21, graduated college, got my first job, and rocked my baby boys in their cribs. It has seen me go through two marriages, and two divorces. It helped me wipe away countless tears as my son graduated high school. It was with me on those days when I had to trek through the snow to get to my cancer treatments. The sweater carries the many memories of my college friends borrowing it, us drinking lattes while laughing and telling jokes at the Blue Wall. When I walked across the stage to receive my MBA, the sweater came with me. The vendor was right about those cold winter day in 1986; the sweater has protected me from the elements and has guided me for 30 years.
I often wonder about that vendor and what happened to her. I looked for her when I returned to campus for a reunion, but I did not see her. Wherever she may be, I send her wishes for many blessings, like she had whispered to me in 1986.