How to Make an Heirloom


My father and I were very, very close. My parents divorced when I was an infant and Dad raised me. I was a late-in-life child for my father. He was 56 when I was born. Dad spent the last decade of his life suffering from Alzheimer’s. After he died, my stepmother Joyce unceremoniously handed each of his six kids a garbage bag. She then allowed us to raid his closet for old shirts, boxer shorts, ties, and other odd objects. She kept and hawked anything of real value, like the diamond watches he wore on each wrist. I wish Joyce had let one of my siblings or me buy one of the watches. Dad died in 2004. Since that time, I have desperately wanted something of my father’s to carry with me. Up until last week, I only had a handful of my dad’s possessions: three old shirts, a yellowing nightshirt, a red pair of suspenders, and a leather jewelry box filled with his kids’ baby teeth. Thanks for the memories, Joyce!

I’ve recently discovered the works of tidying guru Marie Kondo. Kondo encourages her followers to get rid of all objects that don’t “spark joy.” She instructs readers to start with their clothes. I had SIX garbage bags filled with clothes by the time I was done applying her method. I probably had the hardest time determining what I wanted to do with my father’s three shirts. I would never wear these shirts. They’re way too big and hardly consistent with my style. But they were my father’s. How could I possibly throw them away?

Then I had an idea. What if I could transform those shirts into something I might actually use? What about a handkerchief? Dad was born in 1920, a time when most men carried them in their pockets. Dad often had one handy when he wore nice clothes. What a perfect way to remember my father. I immediately went to my neighborhood tailor and had two of the shirts turned into handkerchiefs. One of the two shirts was monogrammed, so I had the tailor remove the initials stitched into the shirt pocket and sewed into one of the napkins. Here’s how they turned out: