I awake in cool morning darkness, slide to the edge of the bed, hang my legs over the side and sit up. Various shades of grey swirl before my eyes as fuzzy shapes begin to form. Instinctively, I reach out in the darkness and find the shirt hanging over the chair by the bed.
I thrust my arms through the sleeves and proceed to button it from the neck down, leaving the throat undone. The chill on my skin subsides, replaced by the warmth of the insulated flannel shirt.
I finish dressing in the dark, make my way down the stairs and grab my fleece off the coat rack. The canvas bag with my workout paraphernalia sits by the corner hutch. I step through the kitchen door into the mudroom and pause to pull on my woolen stocking cap before stepping outside into the pre-dawn cold.
It’s a short drive to the gym. Soon I’m stripped down again, standing in my swimming suit at the end of the pool, stretching my neck and shoulders. I plunge into the cool water and begin to stroke down the lane. As I approach the wall I give a short kick, somersault and spring off the wall. Twenty-four laps later I surface to find the adjacent lanes filled with my companions warming up.
Together we tool through the workout—today, a series of short interval swims repeated in several sets. One hour later we pull ourselves from the water and head for the showers.
In the locker room I towel off and dress. One of the guys notices my shirt. “Nice shirt,” he says. “Where did you get it?”
I turn an answer over in my mind before selecting the words. “It was a gift,” I say, and leave it at that.
I grab my bag, don my stocking cap and step outside. A pair of geese passes overhead, honking in the greyness. The air is cold and still, but I’m toasty inside as I walk to my car, thanks to the insulated shirt on my back.
This shirt was a gift—one of several flannel shirts given to me by the widow of the fellow who used to service my car. Avery was an outdoors sort of guy, one whose idea of a great day was a long walk in the woods with his favorite dog. Gardening was his hobby. He loved to smoke cigars when he worked outside, stacking the wood that he’d cut and split himself.
It’s been two years since Avery succumbed to cancer. I was a pallbearer at his funeral. His wife gave me the shirts several weeks later when she cleaned out his closet.
On these cold grey December days, when the geese pass solemnly overhead, I remember Avery—and those shirts still keep me warm.