with equal parts compassion & hilarity

On finding familiarity in oatmeal (the color)

Yesterday I showed my husband two oatmeal colored sweaters I uncovered at a thrift store. 

“They’re a little bit different, but I  L O V E them,” I said.

“What is with you and that color? It’s almost as if you think you need more oatmeal colored sweaters,” he laughed.

I’m almost a bit embarrassed to reveal that the fact that I already had so many sweaters of that particular color hadn’t occurred to me until he said it. It’s true though. I treasure that easy, familiar color in the form of a sweater. 

I’m familiar with the color oatmeal in the way that I’m familiar with loving dark chocolate or in the way that, come autumn, I instinctively start pouring hot tea in my oversized ceramic mugs just so that I can cup my chilled fingers around the mug. 

I find the familiarity of oatmeal in lots of different place. In the most literal sense, the color and approachable taste of oatmeal is found in my breakfast. I should know that, at the very least. I lived off of that color nearly every morning in my second year of college. 

Oatmeal is also on the backing of the throw blankets and on our hand-me-down couch. It is the most ideal type of couch – big, comfy, zero dollars.

However, my favorite place where oatmeal lives is in the sweater I purchased in euros on the Aran Islands in Ireland. I biked on a rickety rented back halfway across the island for it. It’s worth noting that the reason it is oatmeal is because it’s undyed. The woman who sold it to me in the quaint wool shop told me undyed wool will last longer as you wash it over the years of wear. It will not fade like the other vibrant red, earthy green, and deep purple sweaters that I tried on will.

The original Irish sweater was created out of equal parts necessity and practicality. In case you’ve been living under a rock, you may not be aware that the Emerald Isle is home to lots of sheep as well as lots of cold, rainy days fishing or working outside. Clothing made from a fiber that would keep one warm even in the face of wet, heavy moisture was not so much prized as it was required.

Beyond the life-sustaining power of wool, the sweaters represent a communication system. Certain stitch combinations represent “clans” of Irish people and the unique cable stitches identify the wearer’s profession, village, and family. This was most useful when bodies of men washed up on shore or were found out at sea.

I love thinking that it was commonplace for people to communicate with a mere skein of wool yarn and two pointed knitting needles. And, for the message to be received as intended, the maker, wearer, and receiver must all speak the common language of stitches in addition to their native English and/or Gaelic which I think is just plain lovely.

To honor that history, I try to wear the sweater carefully, with intention. When I do that I swear it feels more sure, more stable, more reliable, more safe, more grounding, and, of course, more warm. Furthermore, as a knitter myself, I’m acquainted with squinting at my work, cursing, ripping out stitches, and then taking a break to calm down. Let’s just say that I can appreciate the effort and talent that went into crafting the sweater.

Beautiful both in its wool bulkiness and skillful design, the Aran Islands sweater is my go-to kind of oatmeal when the temperature dips below 35 degrees (which is 6 months out of the year in Minnesota). I mostly remain inside full well knowing that I likely will not be using the sweater for its intended design. But, please cut me a break – I write for a living, not fish or farm. When I wear the sweater now, I admit that I don’t know what each stitch or delicate cable design stands for, but I do still feel as if I’m connecting to that age-old messaging system and tying in closer to the internet free days of Irish history. 

I suppose I am unconsciously drawn to the most human of desires – familiarity, warmth, and connection. It just so happens that a few small places I find familiarity, warmth, and connection is in sweaters of a certain color, ceramic mugs brimming with heat, and the quiet color oatmeal offer.

What unexpected places do you find familiarity, warmth, or connection?

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