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  • Writer's pictureTerri Tomoff

The Three Sweaters

The cooler, crisp mornings with long shadows and changing leaves to the brightest golds, reds, and oranges make me think it is almost sweater weather! I love me a good sweater with natural fibers, my favorites being cotton, wool, and cashmere. For cool and cold weather, nothing beats wool and the ultimate cashmere.

Nowadays, I have found some of my go-to’s and favorites at thrift stores in my area (Maryland), and I am proud to share that is how I shop. For instance, I’ve found brand-new wool and cashmere sweaters for a song - like $3 or $4. But that was not the case over 40 years ago, before heading off to college.

Growing up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood with hourly wage workers in industrial Cleveland, Ohio, and not much extra money after a week’s pay, a brand new sweater or new clothing to go to college was not in the budget. I had to make do with what I had from my high school days.

In late July of 1980, after my parents started going to a local flea market in a drive-in theater parking lot earlier in the summer and liked it, they decided to make it a family trip one Saturday morning. I was 18 then, with two younger sisters, 12 and 10, and about to leave the nest in the next two weeks. While perusing the aisles of old car parts, dusty tools, old Barbie dolls (probably worth a fortune now), beat-up (and maybe some nice) furniture, and vintage clothing, I spotted in the last row three (what I thought were) nice sweaters on rusty wire hangers.

I stopped for a spell to look and feel all three sweaters in beiges and browns and decided they were nice enough to inquire about the price. I wasn’t sure we could afford all three, but when the older gentleman said they were $1.00 each, I thought, bonanza! I ran over to my Dad and told him the prices, and we walked back to the space. My Dad also asked the price, maybe checking if I got the pricing correct, which it was. With a huge smile on my Dad’s face, he reached into his greasy brown work pants and pulled out three crinkled one-dollar bills to pay for not one sweater but all three!

As the transaction commenced with my Mom and sisters now it tow at the space, my Mom said she would wash all three sweaters in Woolite and that they would be nice and soft and perfect to take to college with me for the winter months.

I was ecstatic about my thrifty find. That’s until I got to the University with many kids dressed in new clothes (or they seemed to me to be newish). Clothing was never a competition for me, but like most college coeds, I wanted to look nice…enough.

By the time the cooler weather descended on campus and winter not far behind with hellacious blizzards to boot, my three sweaters were the perfect solution - even with those single-digit temperatures.

When I wore my favorite out of the three to a party one night, I was complimented yet badgered where it was purchased. I didn’t have the chutzpah then to say exactly where I purchased it, and I came up with the plausible, “My Dad bought it for me,” which was not a lie. Throughout the winter of 1980/81, I wore all three sweaters and kept being pestered on where my sweaters were bought. I held firm with my answer and was finally left alone.

And then, as we all mature and age, our perspective on values changes over time. Since I wore those sweaters all four years, I grew more confident by the time I was a senior and finally told anyone who asked about them that they were bought at a flea market back in Cleveland. Most were shocked at my answer because they couldn’t believe that was true.

Ah, yes, it’s true, and I wore those sweaters proudly for a few more years and shared the story of those $1.00 sweaters with anyone who inquired about how lovely they were. Hey, those sweaters helped me get the nickname WildT, and I cherish it (nickname) to this day!



Photo: Unsplash - Eugene Golovesov


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