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A Thing of Beauty and Utility



In a Writers Group meeting, we were prompted to write about a drawer in our house. Our job was to put pencil or pen to paper and begin without taking time to think about or consciously choose the drawer about which to write. Not for a moment did I consider any of the kitchen drawers, those rattling collections of spatulas, tongs, and whisks. Nor did I think to write about the drawers in my desk tightly packed with files or overflowing with envelopes and postcards, push pins and paper clips, tape and glue sticks. My mind immediately conjured up the contents of my scarf drawer.

Yes, I have a designated drawer for scarves and it is, more often than not, an unruly mess. There are three plastic boxes fitted side by side in which I attempt to keep my scarves sorted. Scarves, alas, do not behave like other items of clothing. They don’t stack neatly like t-shirts or sweaters or nestle in tidy rolls like pairs of socks. Reach for one scarf and one inevitably disturbs the entire pile.

The tidiest of the three boxes holds small, square bandana-like scarves as well as the circular ones you pull over your head — I’m not sure what they’re called — but lately they double as face masks in a pinch. These are the casual members of the scarf population. Made of cotton, they can be sprayed with tick repellent for a wooded walk or used to mop a sweaty brow.

The middle box holds the long, silk rectangular scarves, most of which are gifts from friends and family. These scarves are beautiful, decorated with flowers and swirls of color. One has a blue heron on it and another a pear tree. A surprising number are in varied shades of purple, pink, or green. One, in shades of blue with black accents was a gift from a former student, a fourth grade boy. His mother tried to talk him out of this gift selection, but he was adamant it was the just the thing for Ms O’Keefe. He was right. These scarves, in particular, refuse to conform to any semblance of order. Air is their element; nearly weightless, they glide across the skin and lift in the merest breeze.

The third box contains the Queen of my scarf collection, a double sided shawl of heavy silk in shades of violet, grey, blue and rose. On our first trip to London, we were practically dragged into a hat shop by the flamboyant proprietor who immediately wrapped this gorgeous item around my shoulders and plunked a frothy confection of a hat upon my head. I blanched at the shawl’s price tag and exited the shop as quickly as good manners would allow. The shawl, however, would not let me go. On the final day of our visit, with the remainder of our pound sterling Travelers Checks, we went back to the shop. That was more than thirty years ago and the shawl is every bit as beautiful to me as it was then. It has graced my shoulders at weddings, covered the table holding my mother’s urn during her memorial service, and even ended up on the cover of my second novel.

In addition to the Queen, the box is also home to a number of casual scarves long enough to wrap several times around the neck. Made of sterner stuff than their silk sisters, these scarves stay neatly folded in their box waiting to be worn to the next zoom meeting or out to lunch with a friend.

Scarves pull an outfit together. They make solid colored tops and bottoms join hands to create a pleasing whole. They add a splash of bright color to winter’s dark sweaters and jackets and conceal the wrinkles and creases in the neck’s aging skin. But what scarves do best is keep one’s neck warm and a warm neck goes a long way to keeping the body’s heat in.

When I was in the throes of menopause, hot flashes hit at the most inconvenient times in my teaching day. My scarf was the one garment I could remove during a lesson without calling attention to my distress or distracting my students. There were times, of course, when I longed to remove more that my scarf, but I’m glad to report I always kept my pants on no matter how severe the hot flash.


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