Jackets and Sweaters

I read short sections from a long story in the New York Times about bringing flannel fabric production back to the United States to my mom who is six weeks in to her residency at a memory care wing in an assisted living facility down the hill and minutes from my home. I think she is tracking, but despite her condition, she’s still a master of her old trait to disguise.  My world, and hers, has changed. I am still committed to the sheep despite the fact that it has been the worst season ever for getting jackets on and staying on, and finding markets for the yarn, dyeing wool, vending at the Saturday farmers market still keeps me very happy, but each morning and afternoon I punch in the code that gives me access to her area, and I visit her, kiss her forehead, stroke her hair, check to see if her hearing aids are in place,  and, like a Black Mirror episode too real to be joking, I retell the story of why she is where she is, where I live, and who and where her five other children are and who among them has visited recently and who is coming soon.  The sixteen grandkids slid from her grasp a few months ago. Maybe more.  

I did not see this coming.  What I saw was the fulfillment of a bucolic fantasy of raising lambs on a stunning rural hillside while getting my entrepreneurial fix from figuring out how to monetize a new adventure, volunteering for very local organizations and, if not actually growing old, maybe aging in a place where turtlenecks at a good restaurant is a-ok.  And that is what I’ve done since moving here from the suburbs of Chicago six and a half years ago.

When I arrive in the morning, mom is in the cozy dining area clutching a crisp New York Times and a piece of paper slipped inside a plastic sleeve with dozens of push pin holes at the top. The paper reads, “Dear Mom, good morning. I will come by to visit today sometime between 9:15 am and 9:30 am. Love, Peggy”   Yesterday Mick, the nurse in charge, suggested that I staple a picture of myself to the plastic sleeve because when they try to reassure her I’m coming, just like the note says, she isn’t sure who “Peggy” is. 

I can’t tell you why this year’s sheep jackets have been a disaster.  Almost every morning a ewe or lamb is stumbling around with a jacket that has slid so far to one side she has stepped out of the hind leg opening and managed to get tangled up in the loose fabric. Now that all the sheep are on hay, I need these jackets in place to keep their fleece clean, but either they’ve figured out how to get us to come out and take them off, or the early wet snow has somehow made them heavy and slippery, but in either case we have eight “naked” girls that need to be re-jacketed.  I’ve washed the shit soaked jackets twice and they are hanging now to dry.  I’m going to try to rig up a cinch system so that the jackets can’t slip so easily, but that means examining the options at the local Joann Fabric Store, cutting, adjusting, winging it, and sewing.  That’ll need more time then I seem to have now.

On the back of her bathroom door hangs a laundry bag and tacked next to it is a sign in big font asking for folks not to put Lorry’s sweaters in the bag.  “Peggy will take them home.” Her collection of sweaters began when she started teaching 5th grade forty years ago in a classroom that was never warm. She has some cotton ones for summer nights, but I’ve buried them in the back of her shallow closet.  Sourced from Costco to Land’s End, the staggering mass of wool and cashmere still keeps her warm though the memory care rooms are hot as can be and cleaning them now and then is no big deal. I’ve placed post-it-notes on her dresser drawers that read “bras, sweaters, pants and turtlenecks” to help them put her wash away. These bright orange squares take on all kinds meaning in my mom’s mind. Last week it meant people were residing in the drawers.  Yesterday I told her I thought it was okay to take them down and she said, “no, I haven’t memorized them yet.” 

In the last few weeks, I’ve lost my car keys, left the shopping list on the kitchen table, threw away my latest pair of sneakers that I was supposed to save for the orthotics fitting, searched the house upside down and sideways looking for the dog collar as it sat on the kitchen counter and three times forgot to buy coffee, the morning lifeline. The day after Thanksgiving I learned that Google can help you locate your Android phone, which I left at the neighbor’s home down the hill. It works.

Today I called to ask them not to give my mom the note and to tell her I will come visit after the Sears repair person – scheduled to arrive any time between 8am and 5pm – comes to fix the dryer. I know they will tell her this several times this morning, each time it will be news to her. Meanwhile, I put on my worn winter barn layers, climb up on the tractor to clear the East Field gate of snow, chain up a giant round bale and carefully thread my way through the gate and 18 inches of drifting snow, to place the bale, and, with a decent blade in the box cutter, remove the white plastic cover and mesh. The flock moves in for breakfast the moment I’m done and I see all remaining jackets are on straight.  I return to the house to check on the status of the appointment.

Sears can’t possibly know how important it is they come in the morning. 



  1. John Crane on November 30, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    Wonderful writing, Peggy. Thanks SO much for sharing these stories, rich in detail.

  2. cheri on November 30, 2018 at 10:11 pm

    Life is getting harder. No one tells you this, but it keeps getting harder. That is why we need to take joy out of the moments we have it. Thinking of you with love

  3. Vicky Sheehan on December 1, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    You are a wonderful daughter and amazing woman. Love, Vicky

  4. RoAnne on December 1, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    My heart goes out to you, Peggy. If I can ever be of any help with the farm or just sitting and waiting for a repair person please let me know. I would also be happy to pick up some groceries and deliver.

  5. Sarah on December 2, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    Oooo Peggy,
    I am so sorry. I have been thinking since I read this yesterday what I could possibly say. In the middle of the night I thought about sitting at your family’s dinner table, your dad presiding and your mom making it all happen. The clatter, making sure to get food before it was gone, all of you, almost intimidating after my comparatively quiet house- so much action, so much life.
    It is the final irony that your mom, who of all people, deserves to cherish each moment she lived and all of her children and grandchildren- is robbed of those memories.
    It is not fair.
    But it is.
    Maybe there is some reason for it that we don’t understand. Maybe not.
    It is also amazing that such a facility exists just down the road from you.
    You will not regret the time and attention that you are taking now… and now will not last forever (maybe close though-aahhhh).
    My heart is with you.
    And…this I know. The dryer will get fixed and you will find a solution to the fleece jackets.
    All my love, Sarah

  6. Stephanie on April 3, 2019 at 2:39 am

    Just a note about your sheep covers. I was told to pull them up at the spine and place a big basting stitch if they were walking out of them at first. Then remove it as the fleece grows. Have also seen some big safety pins that can be used. I have shetlands and a couple walked out of their covers last time I switched up. Hope this helps.

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