Preferences define who we are. Before we even start kindergarten, we are asked about our favorite colors, sports teams and foods.
My best friend in fourth grade loved orange. Closing my eyes, I can still picture the orange “Star Wars” T-shirt that she wore everywhere. Many years later, I had a particular student from Vermontville who loved the New York Yankees so much that he wore Yankees merch every day. I never saw this young man in anything but navy blue or pinstripes. Eat at any diner, and hands down, one in my family will order a reuben. It has become their comfort food.
We all have favorite clothes that are special to us, even if their value isn’t apparent to others. Whether it’s an especially soft T-shirt, a grungy sweatshirt that shouldn’t be worn outside the house or pajamas that are definitely not honeymoon material, we find comfort in their familiarity.
As a kid, my son even bestowed magical powers on his favorite boxer shorts. They were navy with red hearts, bought off a GAP clearance rack after Valentine’s Day. I believe he first wore them to a late-season hockey game in fourth grade. His Squirt team must have played well because suddenly these specific boxers were required for all games. Multi-day tournaments got the flip-side treatment: right side out on day one, inside out on day two. (This is pure speculation because I never dared to confirm. There are some things a mother doesn’t want to know.) In youth sports, sometimes the coaches move up with the team as the kids age. This was true for Quin’s hockey team. Fast forward five years from the heart boxer’s debut: In the locker room, before a Bantam game, Coach looked over and said, “Quin is that the same underwear from Squirts?”
“How can you still fit into those?”
The good luck boxers literally disintegrated shortly after.
Our preferences are often an enigma to others. There’s the favorite pen that you hide in a desk drawer so that others don’t use it. Your favorite coffee mug that fits comfortably in your hands on cold dark mornings. Your favorite stove burner for whatever reason is the one you always use.
My favorite oddball item at the moment is a road sign on the edge of Bloomingdale. It reads, “Caution Cemetery Ahead.” While there is an obvious practical safety reason for this sign, that’s not how my brain operates.
If I am feeling particularly philosophical, I see it as an existential warning. “Proceed with care and live life well, because there is only one end to this story.” Caution: Cemetery ahead.
Most days though the sign just inspires a trip down memory lane.
It was the first day of middle school. I’m sure of it, not because middle school classes were that memorable, but because it was my first time riding the bus home since kindergarten. I had been a walker for most of primary school, and now I was a big kid, riding the bus.
A few miles into the ride, all the students went totally silent. No warning, just an instant hush. Mouth open in confusion, I finally asked my seatmate, “What’s going on?”
Pure panic shone through her eyes, as she placed a hand over my mouth. A moment later she exhaled and asked, “Don’t you know?”
“That you hold your breath when you drive by a cemetery?”
“So, the ghosts don’t get jealous because you’re still alive.”
Every bus ride home, in the same spot, we would all fall silent, inhale, and then wait until we passed the graveyard to exhale.
And so, 40-some years later, driving down state Route 3, I read the caution sign, smile and silently thank the Department of Transportation for the reminder. Then I draw in the air and hold.
Is this ritual a bit silly for an adult to follow?
But, if you do the same, I’ll keep your secret. I promise that I won’t breathe a word.