Inspired by V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #120: Frivolous
Another Tourist Trap! my father would inevitably snarl as we approached a Country Store…my favorite destination for souvenirs as a child. My sisters, brother and I would be poised and ready to jump from the family station wagon as it pulled into a dusty parking lot. The result of a small side trip off the main road. We were all excited. He was not.
Keep in mind my family only went on a few – maybe 3 – “family vacations” when I was growing up. My mother always pushed for more, but my father was not interested in the minutia of planning and disruption of routine. To be fair, it couldn’t have been easy with 3 or 4 kids to pack up, transport and stay overnight in a new place. One time my paternal grandmother traveled with us, which severely dampened my mother’s usual enthusiasm.
But I loved a Country Store. There was one in particular in Vermont that we stopped at on the way to Expo 67 in Montreal. Penny candy. Those little wax bottles filled with colored chemicals that tasted like liquid candy. Straws filled with colored sugar. Barley rock candy on a stick. Candy buttons on strips of paper…(do you detect a theme here?). I think this was a Big Deal mostly because we weren’t allowed much candy at home. So it was okay to fill one of those small brown paper sacks with sweet treats “just this once.” A sugar high ensued for the rest of the trip. Tourist trap indeed…a kid’s little slice of heaven.
I didn’t usually have more than a few dollars to spend, but I always inspected all the shelves and displays…not just the candy bins. The “Gem Stones” or “Seashell Collections” glued to cardboard. Lucky Rabbit Foot key chains. The supposed pelt of a small animal (which I now hope was not really…real).
Nothing in those stores was essential. It was all unnecessary…and yes, frivolous, and would eventually rest in a drawer or sit on a shelf in my room. Never serving any useful purpose in the long run…at least that’s what my increasingly practical self concluded.
Except for one item discovered during a “day trip” which included a trip to a Country Store. A denim shirt. This was 1967 and denim shirts were extremely Cool (or as the term was back then: tough). I didn’t need a shirt. I couldn’t justify it in my mind as I could with the candy…I never get candy at home...because I did have enough clothes. And it was a men’s shirt. But boy did I want it with all my teenage soul. I hadn’t wanted something like this in a long time.
I don’t remember how much it cost, but even though I had my own money from babysitting I had to justify it. It was (sort of) a Vacation! One-day trips were out of the ordinary after all. And so were purchases at a Country Store. And it was clothing (even as a kid, I was sensible). My mother was most likely not thrilled I was acquiring a non-feminine men’s shirt. But it was my money (a life lesson right there).
I wore that denim shirt constantly. All the way through college. It eventually became threadbare in places…and what does one do in the ’70s with holes in one’s clothes? Patches!
Later, after I was married with a family and a house, it became my “work shirt” during home painting and staining projects. It faded with each washing. Eventually…and sadly…the fabric started to shred in my hands after being laundered.
I had to stop wearing it. But I still have it.
My frivolous purchase survives to this day…retired and safely tucked in a drawer. Perhaps to remind me that it’s okay to splurge and only with time will the value become clear.
Even if it’s from a Tourist Trap.
Most of my other fervent purchases would collect dust and be saved for decades…until the purge of downsizing began.
But not this shirt. It’s a keeper.
I did need it after all.
And it’s no wonder that the moment I first heard Mary Chapin Carpenter sing this song many years ago, I fell in love with it.
On May 21, 2020 she performed “This Shirt” as part of her “Songs From Home” series she has been posting on Instagram during the pandemic.
During this series, her sweet dog wanders through the kitchen during her singing and can be heard off camera sometimes as well.