Holiday Digest: The Ugly Sweater

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By Suzanne Spinelli

“Go ahead, babe. You need a break,” Tim said early Saturday morning. Zach was at the kitchen table, banging his head rhythmically against the back of his chair.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course! We’ll be fine,” Tim replied, reaching over to ruffle Zach’s hair, pretending not to notice him flinch away.

We’d been invited to an Ugly Sweater party, and this year, I wanted something special. I know, I could have found one on Amazon, but I didn’t want some itchy acrylic sweater from a big box store. I wanted the real deal–the kind of sweater preschool teachers used to wear during the holidays, soft and cozy with big buttons and more colors than a technicolor light display. 

I walked into the Assistance League Thrift shop on Glenneyre in search of my garish treasure. As soon as I entered, I spied a rack of sweaters glowing brightly, drawing me forward like the Christmas star beckoning the shepherds. 

“May I help you?” A petite, twinkly-eyed woman dressed in red smiled at me. She wore a holly sprig in her hair and a string of tiny lights around her neck.

“I’m good. Thanks,” I replied, moving towards the sweaters. 

“Those are lovely, but I have a special one tucked away that might interest you.”

I followed her to the counter, where she pulled out a bundle wrapped in dark green velvet and tied with a gold silk bow. She handed it to me and watched expectantly as I untied the ribbon. Spilling out of the sumptuous velvet was the most hideous, yet glorious sweater ever.

Handmade, its theme might have been the 12 Days of Christmas if Mrs. Claus guzzled spiked eggnog while knitting. Ten lords were leaping over seven crystal-studded swans, ruby-cheeked maids milked their cows while a circle of nine ladies in neon mini dresses and go-go boots danced around them. The five buttons fastening the sweater were huge gold rings, each festooned with glittering sapphires and emeralds. 

“This is perfect,” I babbled. “How much?”

“Fa la la! There’s no charge! I knew you were the one when you walked in the door!” The tiny woman clapped her hands and gave a twirl. “All I ask is that you gift it to someone who needs it more than you when the time is right.”

Putting on the sweater, I dropped $50 in the donation jar on the counter and floated out of the store brimming with holiday spirit. 

As I wandered down Forest Avenue window shopping, people gawked at the sweater and grinned as I walked past. I couldn’t help smiling back. When was the last time I had felt so light, so full of joy?

“Hi guys! You won’t believe what I found at the thrift store,” I shouted, walking into the house. Tim lay reading on the couch and Zach sat on the floor, a row of dinosaurs lined up in front of him. He didn’t look up, but Tim gave a laugh. “Wow, you’re looking merry and bright.” 

I knelt next to Zach and touched his hand. Zach glanced at me, then away. Then he looked up again, eyes focusing on the sweater.

“Five gold rings,” he whispered, stroking the brilliant buttons. “And there, it’s the partridge, and the drummers! Pa rum pum pum!”

Tim and I gaped at each other in shock. We’d never heard so many words from Zach before. I quickly unbuttoned the sweater and laid it on his lap. “Merry Christmas, sweetie!”

“I love you, Mommy!” Zach hugged me tightly, and, heart full, I snuggled him close.

A tinkly laugh rang out suddenly and I looked behind me. Nothing was there but a holly sprig, red berries glistening merrily.

Suzanne Spinelli, a freelance writer and member of the Third Street Writers, admits to owning an ugly holiday sweater or two, although so far, no magical ones. 

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