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Kunin: Old Clothes Get New Llife

(Host) Lately, former Vermont Governor and commentator Madeleine Kunis has been contemplating how personal history, household chores and charitable giving can sometimes overlap in curious ways.

(Kunin) This is a good time of year to go through my closets and decide which suits, sweaters, pants and blouses can be given away to charity so that someone else may wear them.

Why, then, do I find it so hard to pull an item of clothing off the hanger and put it in a black plastic bag. Yes, I haven't worn that bright blue knitted suit with the pleated skirt since I returned from Switzerland thirteen years ago when I was the American Ambassador.

It suited me perfectly then - a bright color for television, non-wrinkle for packing, and serious enough for diplomatic negotiations. I had it dry cleaned about nine years ago, certain that I could wear it again. Yet, there is hangs. Each winter I've debated, should I give it away or not? This time, I am ruthless, into the plastic bag it goes.

Then there's my favorite summer outfit, a black and white woven, light weight dress with a matching coat. If memory serves me right, I think I wore it when I was Governor. It could be either dressy or casual - an outfit that was good for every stop on my schedule, from morning til night - the equivalent of a man's dark suit, white shirt, and red tie.

It's difficult to pull it out of the closet, but out it comes, ready to start a new life.

Then there's that black suit with the velvet collar; perfect for receptions in Washington as Deputy Secretary of Education. And that lovely slender long silk skirt. Surely I could use that now. I try it on. What a shock. It no longer fit s . Could my body have changed that much? I decide it's not so much the weight I've gained, but the way my body ha s shifted my weight around that makes it impossible to button the waistband. Too bad.

What about those sweaters? I should have never bought that pink one, a color and style that didn't suit me, but for some reason, that year, I wanted to look soft and pink. No longer.

I still like the fleece lined black boots, but I had bought them a size too large. Besides I still have a pair from last year, that are warmer and more stylish. I don't need two pairs. Pass one pair on to someone who needs it more.

My eyes light on a pale blue child's winter coat with a sweet velvet collar and a double row of buttons, bought for my daughter in London when she was three. Each year since - she's 51 - I have held on to it. Would I someday have another granddaughter to give it to, or did I want to hold on to the memory of her childhood and my youth?

Pulling clothes out of the closet i s like tugging at each chapter of my life. That suit is what I wore then - is it also who I was then? I want to hold on, but know I must also let go because I can't go back to the time when everything was a perfect fit. I take satisfaction in knowing that someone else will pick them up, and for her, they will feel like new.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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