Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dressing Up & Going Out

Though I’m hardly a hermit, and I try hard not to be crabby, I nonetheless have no qualms whatsoever about taking inspiration from the hermit crab and traveling through life in the raiment and accessories of others. Some have been passed on to me; some have been procured for me; some have been crafted for me. I carry reminders of my relationships with me all the time, both for economy and connection.

Let me enumerate:

The Traveling Man
—When my dad died in 1989, all of my siblings congregated in South Carolina to be with my mother. I lingered after the wake and helped her sort through his clothes. In consequence, I schlepped his sock collection home (it lasted more than a decade) and 20 years later I'm still using his olive drab canvas suitcase.

—One of my dearest community friends was Geoph Kozeny, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2007. Geoph used to live in San Francisco and sometime back in the late '80s he passed along to me a canvas tote sack with a wood-block image of a devil who had purchased a monster at auction (think Maurice Sendak). Long years ago it had been a fundraising premium for KQED, the NPR station based in San Francisco. As a process consultant for 22 years, I can't recall ever traveling to a job where I didn't have my "little devil bag." When the straps started showing serious signs of fraying last year, my daughter, Jo, surreptitiously made a template of the design and presented me with a replacement facsimile for Christmas—with reinforced straps. Is that love, or what? With any luck, it should last me another two decades.

—With rare exceptions, I carry my Mac laptop with me wherever I travel. Back in the early '90s my brother-in-law Dan gave me an L.L. Bean carrying case for my computer and I can't imagine a road trip without it.

—I carry my passport, train tickets, and business cards in a handsome leather wallet I bought on whim in 1967 in London, when carousing around Europe with my brother Guy after I'd graduated from high school. That wallet had been gathering dust in a box in the attic for 30 years until I'd stumbled upon it about 10 years ago. I've since cleaned it up and now have
a piece of my brother with me everywhere I travel.

Down on the Farm

In sharp contrast with the mainstream culture's slavish devotion to fashion, I strive to wear clothes out (the next stop for a t-shirt after after I'm done with it is as a floor rag). In some cases that can take a while.

For more than two decades I relied on a down vest made from a Frostline kit by my sister Kyle. It was one of the best Christmas gifts I ever got. After I finally wore enough holes in the ripstop nylon shell to rertire the vest from active duty, I gave it to a friend to recycle the goose down.

Once I had a pair of sneakers that had been given to me by my son, Ceilee, as he outgrew my size 9 feet en route to his ultimate size 11. (When I think about my substantial investment in his clothes over the years, this modest return was a nice surprise. And unlike his father, my son bought high-end gym shoes, so his hand-me-ups lasted pretty long.)

—Just when I was about to exhaust what first appeared to be a limitless supply of socks from the wardrobe of my deceased father, my sock collection got a timely replenishment from the dresser bureau of Jack Leigh—Susan Patrice's ex-partner, whose footwear passed on to me when he passed on in 2004.
—T-shirts come into my life even faster than socks. Often I haven't the slightest remembrance of their provenance.

Party On
Specialty clothes are unique and tend to be simpler to track:
—I have an a-line skirt from Kelsey, ex of Twin Oaks.

—My favorite auction vest (how I attire myself for conducting benefit auctions) traces to Alex McGee’s ex-brother-in-law, when he moved from St Louis and needed to lighten his load.

—I acquired a floor-length pink cotton dress (hecho en Mexico) when it was donated to an FIC benefit auction in 2001 and the crowd (egged on by the same Susan Patrice mentioned above) insisted on seeing me model it. After all the whistling died down, I rather liked it.

—I possess a Ukrainian officer’s hat procured for me by Alyson Ewald, when she was on a trip to Russia in 2002. (It replaced a cherished black lambs wool cap I had gotten from Bud—my ex-partner Ann Shrader’s father—when he died in1989).

—I've got a Chicago Cubs’ baseball cap from my deceased canoe partner, Tony Blodgett. I acquired that momento from his widow, Sue Anderson, when I was helping her clean out her basement in '05. While the Cubbies were unable to reach the World Series in Tony's lifetime, I like to think I'm carrying the torch for underdogs everywhere by keeping his "lucky" chapeau in circulation.

—My favorite fair shirt (the upper half of my "costume" when attending area festivals to peddle Sandhill food products) was handmade by my ex-partner Jules, circa 1992.

—My wedding shirt (which also blends well with my vest for auctions) was handmade by my daughter Jo. Only two years old, I'm expecting a lot of life out of those special threads.

• • •
As you can see, I'm getting by with a little help from my friends almost every day—even when I'm just getting dressed or boarding a train. The hermit crab has nothing on me.

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