My move from Toronto to Florida — five years ago! — forced me to really apply a rule I try to follow: if you’ve been hanging onto something and never use it, sell it or give it to someone who really needs it. I’ve had to use this rule more since moving from Toronto to Tampa, as the move required me to take only what I could fit in my old car, and because I didn’t want to treat my mother’s basement in Toronto like a free storage place forever.
In spite of this rule, I’ve hung on to one piece of clothing that I’ve had since 1999 and that I almost never wear. It’s a grey zippered sweatshirt, a photo of which you’ll see later on in this article. There’s nothing terribly bad about it; I like the color, but the cut’s all wrong, it’s a little too big, it has ridiculous snap-straps all over (in the photo, you can see one of them around the neck). While it’s perfectly serviceable, I don’t like it enough to keep it under normal circumstances. It would’ve ended up at the drop-off of a Goodwill or some other charity ages ago. But it remains with me, because it’s a special gift from my dad.
In 1999, my former high school classmate André Fenton was doing neuroscience research at the Czech Academy of Sciences and decided that he wanted to ring in the year 2000 by throwing a big New Year’s Eve party in the nicest place that he could rent somewhere near Prague.
He found a great place — Zamek Roztěž (although these days, it’s marketed as Casa Serena Chateau and Gold Resort). It’s a “hunting castle” originally built in the late 1600s in the village of Roztěž, located in the Kutna Hora district, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Prague. I was invited to the party, and while there, had a grand old time:
Upon hearing that I would be staying at a castle somewhere in the central European woods in the dead of winter, Dad decided to surprise me by buying me something to keep me warm. That thing was the zippered sweatshirt, and he gave it to me just as he dropped me off at the airport to catch my flight to Amsterdam, and then Prague.
“I got this for you. I don’t want you to be cold when you’re in that castle.”
I thanked him for the sweatshirt, gave him a big hug, wished him a happy new year in advance, and told him that I’d send photos that I’d take with my still-newish digital camera (1024 by 768 pixels in super-fine mode!) to mom via email (he never had an email address).
It’s not really what I would’ve bought, but it’s big and warm, I thought, and it served me well on the flight, in the castle (which wasn’t all that cold — they’d been doing a fair bit of renovating), and especially well on a hike around the castle grounds with some lovely company on the night of January 1st, 2000:
Because I am a big ol’ sentimental softie, not only have I kept this sweatshirt that I don’t really like all these years, but I take it with me whenever I travel far to someplace cold, as a sort of comforting tradition. I wore it walking through the streets of Prague, while shivering on the slopes at Whistler while trying to figure out how snowboarding worked, when I was conducting mobile technology assessments in the bitter cold of Athabasca’s oil sands, and as I drove through the snow-covered hills of West Virginia on those chilly days of March 2014 as I moved to Tampa to be with Anitra. I brought it with me on our most recent trip to Toronto just after Christmas. It keeps me warm, not only in the physical sense, but also in the way that it reminds me of his kindness and generosity.
Dad died thirteen years ago today. But thanks to this sweatshirt that I normally wouldn’t be all that crazy about, I have a little bit of him that I can take with me when I’m cold and far from home. That’s why I’ll never part with it.