Your mother wears Army boots.

March 11, 2011 § 17 Comments

I am well on my way to dressing like an eccentric old bat.  Before walking the neighborhood I reach for a hat—not a red one—but a stiff-brimmed straw hat which belonged to my dad.  Its brown shoelace strap goes through rusty grommets, then under my chin where it is held snug by a slide-up wooden bead.

My work as a seventh grade fashion designer.

When I was young I would have spent the whole walk imagining the spectacle I was, parading around in my father’s hat.  Now I know the neighbors probably don’t even notice, or, if they do, they don’t care.

Apparently, neither do I.

I have moved from being easily embarrassed, to being an embarrassment.  Time shifts us to the more comfortable side of that equation.

When I was young I was sure that the package was all that mattered.  Each new outfit was an experiment in a possible new self.  I’d put something on and see what my friends thought of this new person before deciding whether I liked her.

But the slippage from dressing as if the whole world were watching to indifference does not stop with wearing my father’s hat.

The inventory of what I am wearing now, and where it was purchased is as follows:

brown sweater (Goodwill)

celery-colored blouse (Goodwill)

plum tank top (a hand-me-up from my daughter)

jeans (ditto)

socks (I thought they were my husband’s but he claims he has no idea where they came from and wishes I would stop putting them in his sock drawer)

Oompa Loompa boots (hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law; and I do have a nice pair of Army boots in the closet)

undies (original equipment, purchased new—bet you’re relieved about that).

Like all daughters, mine is young and beautiful.  She has tried to help me out.  She decided that to dress well we needed to discover my “color.”  After studying me long and hard, and holding up a variety of garments so they could harmonize or argue with the color of my hair, skin and eyes, she announced that my color was…brown.  And she is absolutely right.  Brown is my color.  But only on ordinary days.

On extraordinary days when I sing or make author appearances I am as gaudy as a bird in breeding plumage.   I take one look at myself and know that I am on.

But most days my clothing is sparrow-colored and I am easy to not notice.  Observing friends who consistently look eye-catching, I can tell that it takes a lot of work to put on that kind of display.  I guess I don’t really care how I look.

Okay, that’s not strictly true.  A woman who doesn’t care at all about how she looks has been dead for at least three weeks—so I still care a little.  What I hope is that people will like me not just for how I look (which gets less reliable each day), but for what I say and think and do.

It is a relief to have figured this out.

I now wish I had been easier on my own hopeless mother when I was her fashion advisor.  For years she subscribed to “Vogue” as part of one of those bundled magazine subscription deals.  I pored over each monthly issue.  Convinced I was going to be a fashion designer, I drew page after page of my own creations.  I despaired over my mother’s appearance.  As my brother shot up she began wearing his outgrown clothes!

Then there were the straps.  An unexplainable number of them showed at the neckline of her dress or slid down to hang over her upper arms.  Bra and slip accounted for two of the straps, the third strap and beyond made no sense.  Didn’t she even look at “Vogue?”

I didn’t understand, my mother had crossed over to the other side of the equation.  No longer easy to embarrass she had become an embarrassment—and she was comfortable with it.

Now I am too.

Post Script:  I wrote this while on a short vacation earlier this week.  Somewhere in St. Pete Beach I lost the brown sweater I was wearing in the description.  I searched for it everywhere, which causes me to add, while old clothes do not offer the promise of a whole new self, they become comfortable and familiar old friends.

Dang, I miss that sweater!

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§ 17 Responses to Your mother wears Army boots.

  • craig reeder says:

    that was hilarious about a woman being dead 3 weeks!
    and please, post a picture of the “breeding plumage!”
    oops, watch out, here comes a smiley face: 🙂


  • I’ll be wearing it tomorrow when we play at SouthWoodstock. You will too!


  • A: Did you know that the sparrow has over 40 varieties and each one subtle in its variant colors of brown, yellow and cream? If you look closely at these little guys you will find that they are not a bland and unremarkable as literature has led us to believe.

    BTW, I left daily makeup behind when I left the public workplace behind. My excuse? Having to put it on in the morning and then wipe it off at night stretches the skin, and I need to preserve my elasticity as long as possible if I’m to defy the aging process!! (sounds good to me!)

    Mary Lois


    • Your strategy to preserve elasticity is working. Your skin looks great!

      As for sparrows and all things subtly beautiful,I have to say that subtle wears better over time. Gaudy gets old.


  • Judy Ransom says:

    A hand-me-up? That’s a new one on me, but makes perfect sense! Adrian, your Mom was way ahead of her time with those straps. Looks like her fashion statement finally caught on. 🙂


  • I love it when you release a gem from your illustrator pen (pencil)

    It reminds me how all around talented you are, you are!

    I hope the brown beauty will return to you in a different way.


    • I still hope that old sweater will turn up jammed under the car seat or in a nonexistent compartment in my suitcase. Any kind of goodbye throws me, even one to a comforting brown sweater.


  • Richard Dempsey says:

    I love this post. It’s funny, true (!) to life, and delightful to read.


  • Carolyn T Cohen says:

    I also wear handmeups (“What, you are getting rid of that? I remember when we purchased it not so long ago…”)and also enjoy the thrill of the chase at Goodwill…
    When I see ‘What Not to Wear’ on TV (generally when my daughter is visiting) and the soon-to-be shopping participant is going thru the racks of her clothes as the hosts are mocking and dumping them into the trash cans, I think I could never take part in the show, too many memories attached to various clothing items, where I got it, when I wore it, etc to ever willingly let them be trashed, even with the promise of a $5000 new wardrobe…

    I also remember designing a pale yellow raincoat with hood and red lining (could we have discussed red velvet??) during a study hall with you (you of course being the one who put pencil to paper)… wonder if that sketch might show up one day in a box with old notebooks…. I think there were also tall rainboots along with the outfit, probably yellow, but who know, maybe red?


    • I think those “What Not To Wear” shows are insanely cruel. The participants have turned themselves over to the popular kids in high school (don’t let their wrinkles fool you) and given them a really big stage on which to be derisive. And yes, tossing your old clothes in the garbage would be like dumping your husband because he is so-last-year.

      When I was going through old drawings (my mother saved them) I found a couple that looked something like the rain coat drawing you described–and I feel very sure we discussed red velvet. Velvet was the fabric of choice on lots of my drawings.

      It’s great to hear your voice Carolyn, and to think about the things we did when we were supposed to be studying.


  • My mom mixed patterns way before that was the cool thing to do. Stripes, leopard spots, plaid, she’d throw them all on and play with the mix until it looked amazing. Mom is a writer, a painter, a decorator with a talent as strong as her culinary skills are poor (her pot roasts were tougher than your boots). At 85, her body is still her favorite canvass. This is true of most of the women in my family.

    I was the tomboy — playing with snakes, hammering tree forts. My style of dressing probably evolved from a sense of rebellion (no white before Memorial Day — seriously?) But despite our best intentions, those family genes will out. I still get a kick out of playing with clothes, seeing how many taboos I can break.


    • My mother disregarded both fashion and the culinary arts. She was a writer (and an incredible mother) all the way.

      Leigh, you dress pretty darned nicely for a tomboy. I have it all over you in the couldn’t-care-less-what-I-look-like department.


  • Tgumster says:

    “George’s mother wears Army boots” was a green, hand lettered sign I carried when George Wallace came to Casper, Wyoming in 1968. As was easy to do in scrawling “mod” protest posters, I left out the second ‘g’ in George but, undaunted, I drew in my caret with ballpoint black ink and inserted the the missing ‘g’.

    The next day, our group protest picture was on the front page of the Casper Star-Tribune. My sign was featured prominently but not my typical long, blonde hair nor my usual Army jacket except for my left arm and shoulder.

    It seems I’ve always been a mixed message, more or less.


    • Your message sounds clear and un-mixed to me, but I think we’ve spent much of our separate lives sending the same message, dressing, if not for success, then at least to look good to ourselves.


  • Your post brought this story to mind. Don’t ask why but… My wife left me for a week to go visit her sister down south. The day before she returned I was feeling guilty so I decided to surprise her and hopefully assuage any critical returning remarks.
    I scrubbed the floors, washed all the dirty dishes in the sink and washed all the dirty laundry in the dirty clothes basket.
    I put all my clean cloths away and stacked hers, folded neatly, on her bureau … I never put her stuff in the right places.
    The inspection went fine right up until she started putting her clothes into her bureau.
    Suddenly there she was out in the living room, holding a bra in her had and exhibiting a very strange look on her face.
    “Where did you find this?” she asked.
    “In the dirty clothes basket.” I responded, “Why do you ask?”
    “Because it doesn’t belong to me.”
    There was a difficult silence and then I laughed very nerviously and said, “Don’t give me none of that, honey. If that is not your bra then the only thing I can figure is that some strange woman broke into this house while I was sleeping and stuffed her dirty bra into the bottom of our laundry basket and then snuck out. Other than that happening I have no clue.”
    My wife finally determined that it was an old bra of hers that had been burried in the laundry bag so long she forgot she owned one like it.
    I’ve been off digging through the laundry ever since. No way.


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