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MEMORIES Favorite things are woven into the fabric of our lives

Saturday, January 4, 2003

People have emotional connections with clothing or accessories because they remind us of a beloved person or pleasant experience.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The plaid flannel bathrobe is old now and so well-worn she can push her fingers through the gaping holes. Her grandfather wore it for years, so Raechell Smith still finds it comforting on a chilly night.
The day she found the Western fringed jacket at an estate sale years ago, she knew she had to have it. It reminded her of her mother's stories about a childhood spent on an Oklahoma farm dreaming of becoming the beautiful movie star Dale Evans.
And as for the beat-up, 20-something Doc Martens, Smith painfully broke them in on a six-month backpacking trip through Europe long ago. "They were the only shoes I had with me. They were killing me," she says.
Such items are a few of her favorite things. Smith, director of the H & amp;R Block Artspace in Kansas City, is like most of us who have forged emotional relationships with clothing or accessories. Maybe we wear them. Maybe not. No matter. We do not want to be without them.
Perhaps it's a scarf Aunt Mary knitted as a Christmas gift years ago. Or a dress we wore on an especially happy day, or a muffler discovered during a pleasant moment in a Florence, Italy, vintage store. Maybe it's mother's pearls or a graduation dress.
In any event, it's associated with a person, a moment or an important time in life.
Personal treasures
Terry Richardson, the owner of Kansas City's Revue vintage store, treasures a silver and turquoise belt buckle her father wore after he retired from police work to build a trucking business. "He changed his whole style of dress. He went from wearing suits to Western clothing."
Perry Buffington, a Florida-based psychologist, calls such possessions "bonds with the past," reminiscent of the things we've lost without evoking all the negative emotions.
They're "adult security blankets" and, like a good-luck talisman, they sort of protect us "from slings and arrows or outrageous 2002 economics and difficult times," says Buffington, author of the book series "Cheap Psychological Tricks: What to Do When Honesty, Hardwork and Perseverance Fail."
Perhaps most important, he says, "they remind us we're not alone."
"Everything in our lives has meaning," says Marilyn Metzl, a Kansas City psychologist and psychotherapist. "There is no neutral object. It is bred into us to attach meaning."
Metzl pulls out her father's old sweater from her closet when she needs comfort. "It reminds me of my dad," she says.
Linda Moore, a Kansas City psychologist, agrees. "It becomes a symbol," she says, of a person, time or place.
Consider Brenda Ridgnal, a service coordinator for Met Life Small Business Center in Kansas City. She proudly wears the stylish leopard coat with leather trim of 1960s vintage. It was a gift from her brother and had belonged to her late sister-in-law, to whom she felt close. She calls it "a legacy in our family."
Susan Hiland, a Kansas City news anchor, still shows up in the jeans she ripped a decade ago climbing over a fence to get to a van overturned in a creek. "I never sewed them up. It's a symbol of what lengths we go to on a story. They're kind of my badge of honor," she says.
Don Harman, a meteorologist, likes to wear the shirt he tie-dyed with friends in high school in the early '80s. They spray-painted the words "TUBAS" across the front for the name of their band. "It's pretty tight now," he says.
Signature style
Sometimes meaningful items become a signature. Dwight Frizzell, a Kansas City filmmaker and musician, is never without the small, brown stone turtle on a chain around his neck. His wife bought it for him about two years ago at War Eagle Caverns. It's a symbol of an obsession he has had most of his life with the turtle.
His turtle passion developed when he was 6, he says, and had a pet snapping turtle. As an adult he has written turtle music, played it with his band, BCR, and recorded it. He describes the music as having to do with space association. He has written prose about the turtle and talks about the spiritual connections of the outer and inner self and the self-sufficiency of the creature who totes his own shelter. When he drives in rural areas, he stops to help turtles across the road.
Phil Miller, a Kansas City poet, is easily recognized by acquaintances from afar by his usual hat. Men used to wear hats, he says. His father wore a hat. And he is most comfortable in hats -- a fedora, a newsboy cap, a baseball cap, any hat.
It's a habit developed in childhood. "My mother dressed me in short pants and a beret. I was teased mercilessly, of course. But something about me made me keep doing it."
He refers to a poem by Billy Collins about men and hats. And he himself makes references to women's and men's hats in his own writing. One poem, "Old Hats," talks of his aunt's blue felt evening hat somewhere in the attic, "... the one with the thin jet veil she wore the night she left town with a guy she'd brought home once before ..."
He has his favorite toppers. One hat almost too worn to wear and a wool scarf with a cube design are special because he found them in a vintage store in Florence, Italy.