The Fifth Letter: Stuff & Story

Dear Daughters,

This morning I got up early to drive my mom to the airport. Grandma prefers to be at the airport ridiculously early for her flights, so we left at 4:15 am. (I’m the same way, so I shouldn’t make fun. I do, of course, but I shouldn’t.)

In the dark of my bedroom, after already rousing to nurse the baby and then unsuccessfully trying to fall back to sleep, I turned off my alarm and grabbed a sweatshirt, socks, and a pair of easy-on sneakers before heading downstairs.

As I tied up the shoes, I remembered that I had ordered them online six years ago before your dad and I headed to Italy. We’d been saving for five years and planned to celebrate both our fifth anniversary and your dad’s finishing his doctorate at the same time. Because we intended to live out of backpacks for two weeks as we stayed in bed and breakfasts, I needed a versatile and small shoe that would be comfortable for walking and hiking. The ones I ended up buying–these–are a strange shade of burnt orange, and the eyelits are pink, but they served their purpose as we hoofed it in and out of cathedrals and museums in Rome, Venice, Florence, and Tuscany.

That’s what I was thinking about this morning during my sleepy daze at four o’clock in the morning. Italy.

Your dad and I don’t spend a lot of money on new clothing. You might resent this about us some day, but the truth is, I hope you, too, are thrifty. Because thrifty-ness in our case isn’t just about money, or about our ethical convictions about the supply chain of most mass-produced goods, but about the importance of story and permanence and valuing a narrative.

Sure, I keep these shoes because (a) I have them, (b) they fit, and (c) they’re lightweight and comfy, but I also keep these shoes because they travelled around Italy with us. For our fifth anniversary. At the time, five years felt like forever happiness. Now it seems like we were only babies ourselves.

Tying these shoes up this morning—a double knot, because the laces are slippery and somewhat short–I remembered the ridiculously long path we hiked along the Cinque Terra and how it felt to come down into one of the small, colorful seaside cities perched on the cliff, with laundry hanging out of nearly every window and the strange German tourist we saw walking around in his Speedo and white socks and sneakers.

I haven’t thought about that bizarre image in quite some time.

The socks I’m wearing are a fuzzy giraffe-print pair that your dad’s grandmother gave me for Christmas one year. I have a picture of the toddler wearing them, pulled way up to her thigh.

The T-shirt I’m wearing is a “Walk Across Texas” campaign shirt from my old job at Baylor University in Waco, eight or nine years ago. I was on a team of middle-aged women who were wearing pedometers and keeping track of their footsteps in order to win this T-shirt. There may have been more motivation than that at the time, but all I remember is the T-shirt. Which I’m wearing. Right now.

The long-sleeved T-shirt on top of that is a Hard Rock Café London shirt—where your dad and I went on our first date, second semester of college, thirteen years ago. We were spending the semester abroad with our undergraduate college’s First-Year Honors Program. We were nerds. We still are nerds. But our first date was in London, which is freaking awesome.

The navy blue sweatshirt on top of that was my stepdad’s from when I was a kid. It’s got some fraying spots along the neckline and sleeves, but it is soft and warm. And it’s kind of eighties in its style, the big and bulky size of it, but–I never believed this would happen, never–the eighties stuff is coming back in. It’s almost cool. Maybe twenty years from now, you’ll pull it out of your closet and find the same to be true.

The scarf I wore in the car this morning was a souvenir my college roommate brought me from her semester abroad our junior year. She went to Paris, and these long pashmina-style scarves hadn’t yet become commonplace here in the States.

I could probably list off similar stories and facts and tidbits about eighty percent of my wardrobe, a sure sign that I hold onto my clothing a long time and also that I have a memory for details that aren’t important in the scheme of things.

Or maybe these are the details that are truly important in the scheme of things.

Because I guess what I am trying to say with this catalog of my clothing’s history is this:

Live as if everything has a story, girls.

Because it does.

Your Momma