I wouldn't trade this sweater for all the money in the world.

Whenever I see a beaded sweater, I always think of the friend who gave me this one in 1986 when it was already three decades old. I was looking for a black sweater to wear with a velvet skirt for an office Christmas party. Millie pulled this out of her dresser and asked me to try it on. It fit perfectly and I loved it. “Keep it,” she said.

Millie Armbruster wore stilettos in her 60s, carried Meals On Wheels to the elderly in her 80s, and had a laugh that made ordinary life seem like a bombastic adventure. We met for the first time when I was four. She lived down the street and around the corner from my Aunt Al and Uncle Roy. From the time I was old enough to pack a bag, I spent a week out of every summer visiting them in St. Louis—a vacation that was better than a trip to Disney World for reasons that I won’t discuss here. (READ: I was the daughter they never had and I had three brothers that tormented the daylight out of me from dawn until dusk all summer long.)

My uncle was a successful salesman for Addressograph Multigraph and they frequently entertained customers for dinner. Occasionally their plans overlapped with my visit so my aunt would ask Millie to babysit with us. Millie had a poodle that terrified me, but other than that, we got along famously.

Visits with Millie were sporadic after my aunt and uncle left St. Louis, but our friendship was rekindled in 1983 shortly after my uncle died in an accident—but not before he helped me get an interview that landed me a job in St. Louis just a few weeks after his death. At Millie’s suggestion, I packed up my apartment in Cincinnati and moved in with her until I found my own place just a few miles from her house.

For the next three years, Millie and I spent almost every Thursday night gathered around her kitchen table, watching Magnum PI with Judy, a poodle who seemed to think she was one of us. I would carry in pizza after work or Millie would prepare a feast of walnuts, apples and cheese, washed down with a glass of sherry. Random things I loved about Millie:

She refused to take life seriously. As a telephone operator for Bell Telephone, Millie used to get in trouble for laughing while talking to the customers. “Miss Singleton,” her supervisor would break in on Millie’s line to say. “What is so funny?” She responded like a freewheeling Gen Y employee, caught in a stupid, authoritarian system that pays the bills but does nothing else to warm the cockles of your heart: “I feel like I’m in kindergarten,” she giggled. When she couldn’t be shamed into seriousness, she was sent outside to compose herself–like a kindergartener.

She maintained her youth without a trace of vanity. Even in her 90s, it was sort of hard to tell how old she was. One day we were looking at pictures together and I caught a glimpse of her as a beautiful young woman. Time hadn’t robbed Millie. When I said so, she said something I have never forgotten: “There is a certain amount of beauty in youth.” She gave herself and others the benefit of the doubt and it showed on her face. As you look back on your former self, you can probably see that you, too, were better than you thought you were. And probably still are. Why not appreciate yourself?

She maintained her independence without becoming an island unto herself. I rode with her when she was in her 90s and she still barreled along the freeways without fear. Millie believed in saving and investing. That’s what allowed her to live a comfortable life well into her 90s even though neither she nor her husband ever made a lot of money. She didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about herself and frequently opened her home to other people including a foster son she helped raise. Even in her 80s, she didn’t pay someone else to mow the lawn because that was something she could do. Or so she thought. When she died at the age of 96, her memorial service was overflowing with people. Millie was still interested in others.

She savored things. Whenever we got together, Millie liked to recall our first meeting in 1964. “You had hair like a shiny copper penny,” she would say. She remembered the taste of yams she had eaten as a kid and insisted they were nothing like the yams we have today.

When she died a few years ago, I thought a very great light had gone out of my world. Instead, I find that her warm laugh and vast, unconditional love are still very much with me. The beaded sweater she gave me is a precious reminder of Millie and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I hope you are fortunate enough to have a vintage piece that reminds you of someone’s love. If you do, we’d love to hear about it.

P.S. Even though I’ll never sell this sweater, this weekend, we are adding three vintage sweaters that are very sweet!