Do you remember the first time you travelled? The people you were with? What you did? This is a story about that. It’s also a story about the power of threes. Three years old, three trips to London, three sisters… and a sweater.
When I was three, my older sister and I travelled with our parents and Nana and Papa to London, England. I am not sure why and I really don’t remember much because a three year old’s brain is still developing. What I do remember is that three events occurred: one rather insignificant, one mentally damaging and one that I still love and protect to this day.
The first thing I remember is that we stayed in a hotel with a Murphy bed. I had never seen a bed fold up into a wall and completely disappear. All the bedding and everything just vanished. I was totally enamoured, a bit like Charlie Chaplin in the scene where he too encounters one for the first time. In my case, I highly doubt I had a top hat and cigarette and OK, perhaps there was a little less drama. I thought it was the most ingenious thing I had ever seen in my whole short life.
Our parents room was down the hall from Nana and Papa. My sister and I took turns sleeping between either Nana and Papa, or our parents. Oddly enough, I don’t remember my turns sleeping between Mummy and Daddy. That’s because Nana snored. Who could forget? So did Papa but his breathing was always like a whisper in comparison.
[Source: Selfridge’s Edwardian poster]
It was also on this trip that I got lost in the department store, Selfridges. 1975 was a much different world when it came to missing children. Come to think of it, I am not so sure the alert protocol for missing children was the safest back in the 70’s. Thank goodness for the Amber Alerts we have today. Somehow I wandered away from my parents and ended up in the hands of customer service. I think I might have cried but truthfully, I can’t remember such micro details. What I do remember is that the nice lady gave me a sweetie, put me on her lap, and announced over the PA system:
“Would the parents of a little girl, with dark, curly hair, please come to the customer service desk”.
To this day, I have a phobia about getting lost. If I am out with someone, doesn’t matter where, and realize even for a split moment that I am on my own, a mysterious illogical panic consumes me and I franticly start looking around, pacing my head left and right, as if I am a silly chicken trying to cross a busy street. It is only when I find who I am looking for that I feel safe. I guess it is a mental scar I carry with me to this day.
The third memory to come from this trip is that Nana bought herself a black cashmere sweater. I could be wrong but if I had to make an educated guess, I would say she would have bought it either from Selfridges, possibly even on the same day I got lost, or perhaps from Marks & Spencer, her all time favourite store. Even back in the 70’s, cashmere would have been an indulgence. Nana was not one for indulgences. Like her, I myself am not one for labels.
The label in Nana’s black cashmere cardigan. 2016.
On closer inspection, I see that the cardigan is made by Pringle. Not to be confused with the chips, I Google it and discover that it is Pringle of Scotland. Their history spans 200 plus years and as I read their story, these words stick with me:
Pringle received its Royal Warrant in 1956 awarded by Her Majesty the Queen. One of the most treasured notes in the brand archives is a note from Clarence House from the Dresser to Her Majesty the Queen Mother simply requesting ‘New Cardigan Please.’
I always thought that Nana had something regal about her. See for yourself.
Nana and Papa in 1969
Nana bought the cardigan as a staple for her travels. Practical. Simple and beautiful. Nana and Papa used to travel quite a bit. Mostly to London and Canada, where she was able to get lots of wear of this beloved sweater. The temperature in Barbados never required the need for such a luxury. That’s because the average year round daytime high of 30°C / 86°F temperature means sweaters are not everyday attire. Queen, or no Queen.
I would travel back to London two more times. The second visit, when I got my ears pierced at the same Selfridges. This time I stuck close to my parents. The last visit was when I turned 13 and my sister and I went with our parents on a trip to Europe. It was on this trip that we were old enough to borrow Nana’s cardigan for the first time. Mum had ordered us only to pack shorts and the one pair of pants for the plane. Europe was sure to be hot in July. That’s what she said. Well Europe ain’t no Barbados. We were so cold that we each lived in our one pair of pants and both begged to take turns wearing the sweater.
Then when my oldest sister left for Toronto to go to art college, naturally she begged Nana to take the cardigan with her. You must understand that Nana did not like to part with her things easily. But for some unknown reason, she agreed. As I joined my sister in Toronto, the sweater became a coveted piece again. We took turns wearing it and loved it so much that one side of the label became unstitched. It’s where you see the safety pin. It’s been there and replaced several times with different sized pins over the last 25 years.
When our younger sister came to Canada to study, she naturally became the next in tow. Not intentionally, mind you. The cardigan travelled to her when I was busy having children in succession. No time for cardigans. Or showers. Or fashion. Life was a blur. Not for my little sister, ten years my junior. It was her turn to get love and wear out of Nana’s sweater. So much so that I forgot she had it.
Then a couple years ago, my little sister and her husband made the decision to return to Barbados. On a visit, I was sitting on her bed while she was going through her closet to decide what she would take back with her. That’s when I noticed it. Sure she would not need this in 30°C? I casually commented on this fact. She said nothing and kept it in her closet.
When the time came for our goodbyes, we did our best to keep the emotions to a minimum in front of our children. I attempted to be the stoic, brave older sister. My sister then casually handed me a gift bag with some tissue paper in it. As I pulled the tissue away, there was Nana’s cardigan.
* * * *
At the current moment, Nana’s cardigan is carefully folded in tissue paper and stored in a box under our bed. It is not a Murphy bed but I sure do love it and the story behind it. Part of me wants to leave the safety pin, a reminder of its travels. Call it for safety reasons. The other part of me wants to get it repaired because I am sure Nana would have wanted that. I did take the pin out of it after finding out just how expensive a Pringle sweater is.
As I started working on this story, my husband bought me my very own black cashmere cardigan for Christmas. He got it from The Bay. Now I can wear my own cardigan as often as I like and still protect Nana’s legacy. It’s in my nature to be protective. Our two daughters are already nipping at each other’s heels. Like Nana, I don’t like to part with things easily either. When the time is right, maybe I should let my daughters take the new cardigan instead. Or I could surrender Nana’s cardigan to continue on its travels. I simply have not decided yet.
Between my two lovely sisters (neither of whom snore, to the best of my knowledge). Barbados. January 2006. [Photo credit: Andrew Hulsmeier]