There is a clothing store in Salt Lake City that specializes in outfitting newly minted missionaries. I was nearly 19, had received my “call”, and with more than a little hesitation my mother and I paid Mr. Mac a visit.
Up till this point I had never owned a suit my mother did not make herself, owned one tie since I was 12, and had worn the same Payless “Sunday” shoes since I was 15. The paperwork in my call included a required clothing list that would take a considerable investment, as I owned nearly nothing on said list. Mr. Mac offered a “new missionary discount.”
Two dark suits, two pairs black/brown dress shoes with matching laces and no contrasting stitching (the Dr. Marten clause), 5-7 white dress shirts long and short sleeve, dark socks, conservative ties, belt. It seemed an understandable and easy list but looking from the paper to the racks of jackets and back, I was lost.
An old gentleman approached and asked where I was called. “Atlanta” was my reply. He nodded and got to work stacking items on a table, not even glimpsing the list I brought for reference. “You will want light weight because it’s hot. One suit navy, that is a must, and the other you can play with a little. I suggest a charcoal with some sort of color stripe; you can pick a color you like so you don’t get bored. This one looks nice, what color do you like? Do you know your size? Step up here and we’ll measure. Now what color do you want?”
Not really understanding anything I was looking at, why this man had just ran a string up the inside of my leg, or having previously considered what color of pinstripe I liked in a charcoal suit, I said, “Can I get double breasted?” This was the only suit lingo I knew. I believe I had heard the term in a mob movie once and while not knowing what it meant, I knew I liked how the characters looked. That was when I was 13. I had been holding that term since then for just this instance. The man looked at me sideways, told me he would grant the request for the navy and might he suggest a green for my pinstripes in the charcoal? I shrugged a yes.
We placed two, two pant suits on the table and an assistant began stacking plastic wrapped white shirts next to the suits; four oxford button downs, four broadcloth point collars. Five short sleeve, four long. I paid no attention; to me they were just a bunch of white shirts. I do not know what brand wingtips were grabbed. They had thick foamy soles and I learned a new word “cordovan.” I had been told by returning missionaries to get “Docs” (Dr. Marten’s), but ever the one to keep a rule, I was afraid of contrast stitching.
I drew the line at ties. I knew a girl who worked at the outlet mall who was sure she could beat the discount. I figured suits were all the same; because to me they all looked the same, so what really mattered was the tie. I did not trust this guy. He was old and because of this deficiency he could never know what was cool. I didn’t either but I was sure this teenage girl at the outlet was the expert.
We moved my new wardrobe past the checkout and into the car. There was no excitement over the new clothes, they were a technicality. There was neither anticipation nor appreciation for the wardrobe or the man who had assembled it, I simply did not care.
As my mother and I drove home I think she was talking about luggage. I’m not sure, I wasn’t listening. With stacks of new shirts and suits, I was looking at the example photo my call included of what an appropriate haircut looked like. Since the day I was old and brave enough to voice an opinion, I had never sported such a look. I knew the trip to the barber was coming, I had been anticipating that haircut for years.
I looked down the list again.
It was as if an eraser had been dragged across everything I had ever known of style.
It was a long list. It was a list of clothing more expensive than anything I had previously owned. Yet at the end of it all, all I could see, was nothing.
Then there was that haircut…
Same old story, nuthin new…
Mormon white guy raised in Utah does a Rastafarian themed painting that gets bootlegged in Russia. Heard this one a million times.
… at least I think its Russian.
I once lived in a place with a population of somewhere near 30,000 people and 10,000 chain restaurants. Eating was convenient, reliable, and plastic.
What I do miss is disposable income. Upcoming opportunities have inspired us to put the clamps down on the budget, which would normally put the clamps down on adventurous eating, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
As we scan the menu we skip the apps, ignore multiple entrees, and focus mostly on the column to the right. Ordering in such a fashion will likely force us to miss whatever dish the house does best, but if you choose the right house, things will work out just fine.
Why go “nice” while spending less, which means eating less, when Chili’s exists? Because any wise investor will tell you that it is not how much money you put in, but where you put it, that matters most. Perhaps these ventures are not investments in meals but something more important.
Creme brulee and steak are nice, but time with her in a place we like, is better.
The fact that this is notable speaks to the sartorial state of the office in general, clients do not walk in, the boss regularly wears tennis shoes, and our windows have a view of the golf course’s parking lot.
Then there is this guy.
He is about a decade older than the rest of us, but not yet old. He is tall, bearded, bespectacled, and round in the middle. He is in no way eloquent, not exceptionally witty, and I don’t get the impression he is a big sports fan. He is friendly but not extroverted, the type of guy that can tend to become furniture in a crowd.
He might be my favorite person in this place and I’m not exactly sure why.
I think it’s the tie, or maybe the suspenders.
Being the only guy in the office wearing a tie, while being at the bottom of the leader board, looks a bit desperate. Being older than the rest and wearing suspenders seams out-of-date.
With all of this taken into consideration, again, he may be my favorite person here, and I think it is in fact his clothes.
He does it right.
He dresses in a way that makes you notice the inconspicuous, overlook the shortcomings, and simply appreciate him for… who knows? You just do.
I would carry all the traps in a large basket strapped to my back. Dad, wearing hip waders, would forge into the canal, pond, or stream to set or retrieve said traps. We always did it in winter, that’s when the beaver or muskrat’s fur was thickest. We would set them on a Friday and then wake up at an unreasonable, and cold, hour the next morning to see what we caught. I was gifted a small but very sharp pocket knife, given some instructions, and then it was my job to skin our catch. The furs were sold at the end of the season and my brother and I got to keep our share of the take.
I don’t remember us talking much on those trips, but I do remember watching my own breath, watching the whole sky full of sparrows, and watching Dad up to his thighs in icy water bending a steel trap over his leg.
In 9th grade all the other kids on the team were wearing new cleats, black Nike Sharks. They cost $60. Practice began in August so mid July Dad started bringing me with him to the school every morning. He cut the plywood and set it up on the chalk board, propped up by the chalk tray. He would hand me a small Xeroxed image for reference, then go off to cut out the lettering while I painted the images, a Kearns Cougar, Taylorsville Warrior, Brighton Bengal. By the start of football season I had my cleats and the money for dues. Better than that, any time I visited Hillcrest High School’s gym I could look up at the wall and think to myself, “I did those.”
He used to tell stories, lots of stories. He told me all about Switzerland where he was a missionary. The Swiss thought corn was pig food and would jeeringly give it to the two American kids for free. He told about riding rickety bikes on cobblestones and the respect our last name garnered from the locals who still remembered the English general. He told me about getting drafted when he returned home and spending the next few years at the Berlin Wall watching rabbits try to cross the mine field and listening to boring East German radio transmissions.
I remember him saying repeatedly that he had never been bored and had no patience for his children complaining that they were. “If you can’t find something to do it is your own fault; no you cannot watch TV.” We did watch TV though; all the family in the living room, in front of the home’s only set. We, the kids, would watch the Cosby Show while he would sit and engrave powder horns or Walrus tusks.
Every morning at 6am sharp my lights would turn on. “Scriptures”, the voice would say as I cringed awake and drug myself upstairs to the breakfast table where the whole family would take turns reading a verse till we had finished a chapter. Then we would all kneel in prayer, and Dad would go out the door to school. We did not miss church. I repeat, we did not miss church. Once we were camping over the weekend at the Cache Valley Rendezvous. I’m not sure if it was a packing oversight or some communication error, but the lack of white shirt and tie did not stop Dad, and by association the rest of us, from being on time to church. We drove down into town and all six kids, plus Mom, took up a whole row while wearing buck skins and moccasins. We even stayed for Sunday School.
I used to doodle during church. I remember one day I drew a forest filled with soldiers and tanks. The detail on every tree and rifle was inspiring. As always I proudly showed my father who looked at it and said, “It’s nice but the trees look like lollipops. Have you ever seen a tree that looks like a lollipop?” When we got home he sat me on the back porch and asked me to look at the peach tree and draw it how it looked in real life. I think I was seven.
He was a scoutmaster for nine years. That is a long time. All of my suburban friends were terrified of the bearded mountain man and to some extent so was I. He never raised a hand to me, or to them, but he held the bar high. Rules were to be kept, expectations were to be met, and he was usually the one playing the pranks at night; rocks under bedrolls, tent stakes removed, and never a word about it the next morning.
I remained afraid of him till I left the house as a missionary. In my youthful shortsightedness all I really saw were expectations and rules, I never really saw him. During all those years when I was small, I’m not sure he was really there. I remember the first time I really saw him.
I came home from school for a weekend to do laundry. Mom had been out of town all week and was set to return the next day. Dad was just coming inside from mowing the lawn and when I looked past him out the sliding glass doors, I could see that he had just mowed the words, “I love you,” into the grass. He had missed her. It was the first time I appreciated his feelings completely separate from myself. This wasn’t a lesson he was teaching me, he wasn’t showing off, he just really wanted his wife to know she was missed. He wasn’t being Dad, just being himself. I’ve gotten to know him better since I left the house. I have gotten to know him for his own sake and not simply as a reaction to me. I like him.
The older I get and the farther I get from all those lessons, the more I appreciate them. I appreciate more all the work it took to be what he knew I needed, as opposed to just being himself.
Now I find myself unable to watch TV without sketching or writing. I made my daughter draw a tree. I told my wife the story about the old Indian named Falling Rock whom the soldiers could never catch, resulting in all the warning signs along the road you see while driving through the canyons. I email him photos of all my paintings hoping for a helpful critique and find myself frustrated if he simply says he likes it. I
have been my own man for some years now; I’m finally past the threshold where people stop calling you young. He is old now (wink), wears hearing aids, and questions my politics. I only see him a few times a year, if that, yet every day, no matter what my task or thought, he is there.
I crave his approval like a drug. I have looked at other parents and parenting styles, but mostly I want to pattern mine after him. It is a hard standard to live up to and I so desperately hope I can. I love my children and they deserve a father like the one I had. I’m not sure how success in this realm is measured but I can hope. I can hope that by the time my children reach the age I am now, that they will love me as much as I love my Dad today.
Having been inspired by the fine gentleman over at TheTrad, I have elected to do likewise.
Can you guess the institution or volume?
Give up? Dartmouth we are not, Animal House we are not, Big Love we are not.
I didn’t look at the title page, but from my experience and memory, this was probably published in 1997.
My ventures have recently been relegated to the weekends.
This weekend I again found myself making my way up and down I-95, but unlike the other times, I was not alone. Not even a little bit.
Little bits 1 and 2 were in the backseat, and on the way home we picked up little bit #3. I’m sure there is some mathematical theorem explaining how 2+1=7million decibals; I can’t explain it, but I have experienced it.
Even short trips, with little people, are made long by many stops, which brings up my question.
Who writes on restroom walls? No, I suppose that’s not the real question, we can make some assumptions about those who take the time to leave a mark in public lavatories, the real question, one I’m afraid to ask, is does anyone ever call those numbers?