My Red Sweatshirt

My Red Sweatshirt

My Red Sweatshirt


Judy Bluhm

It has been an unlikely companion. Funny how some obscure, inexpensive and hastily purchased clothing item can be the “statement fashion piece” of a lifetime. I bought it at a garage sale. A bright red, thick cotton, oversized sweatshirt with a large, loose hood, but no ties. It didn’t feel or look like most sweatshirts, so I might have been mislabeling it all these years. It was a discarded, rolled up red ball on a table with a post-it note that read “$2 – firm.” I picked it up and gave it a quick inspection. “Perfect for the beach,” I said to no one. I handed over two bucks. That was over thirty years ago.

My daughters, grandsons and I made an annual trip (sometimes twice a year) to a quiet little beach town. Imperial Beach was the most southern beach in California, and we snagged a funky little rental that sat right on the beach. It used to be the original lifeguard hut, probably built in the 1940s. The deck was easy to climb over onto the sand and the Great Pacific Ocean straight away. Our first trip there was the inaugural debut for the red sweatshirt.

Coming from the blistering heat of Arizona, Imperial Beach was not only a welcome getaway, but it was also cool and breezy. Triple digits in Phoenix and then six hours later it was seventy-five. Dreams do come true. It was the very beginning of the “beach house” era. The chapter started when grandsons were babies, daughters were young, and I guess I was too. We started out with strollers, graduated to wagons, then boogie boards and eventually wet suits and the long boards. We brought fishing poles and tackle boxes so the boys could fish off the pier. Life was good.

The red sweatshirt was my go-to item of clothing. Maybe bathing suit, shorts and tank top during the day, but early mornings and evenings required a wrap. Not too warm, a loose cotton knit, non-stretchy or tight like a regular sweatshirt, it had the fabric meant for beach life. And for a few weeks out of the year, I wore it. Every single day.

One of my grandsons recently asked me if I wanted to be buried in it. “Well, I am going to be cremated, so I guess that is not possible,” I laughed. I only bring this up, since of all the clothes, coats, sweaters, dresses and outfits that I have ever owned, this red sweatshirt has somehow defined me. It became so iconic that even when it became obviously old and worn, I seemed to always wear it. Almost all photos of me spanning thirty years at the beach is with me in my red sweatshirt.

A few years ago, one of my grandson’s wives gifted me a shocking pink Victoria Secret sweatshirt with a zippered-up front. Quite classy. She said I could consider it a replacement for “the red one.” I suppose I should have taken the hint and “retired” the red sweatshirt, but I rarely take hints and when I find something I like, I sort of cling to it.

I have hugged many grandbabies in this red sweatshirt. Skipped along sandy beaches, made my way on two-mile walks through the town of Imperial Beach and every evening strolled out to the end of the pier. It smelled like sea breezes. Okay, sometime baby throw-up. But mostly, it became my “beach brand.”

Can one piece of cloth capture the essence of an era? I think so. More to come . . . because there are binoculars, boogie boards and beach toys that were “chapters” worth discussing.

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