Hand-Me-Downs and Icees
Our household was a home of hand-me-downs. I was the youngest of the three boys, so I wore clothes that were at least one generation old, sometimes two and maybe even more if we had boxes of clothes from the cousins in Miller or Minneapolis. I feel like I was constantly trying on clothes. In the spring, mom would holler at me from the attic to get up there and go through boxes of summer clothes. In the fall, we’d dig out the winter clothes. I would rarely go to her with any kind of spring in my step… I had "important" things I wanted to go do, not sit up in a stuffy attic and try on clothes with my mother.
She’d pull out a box labeled with “Matthew / Summer” (or some other season and name) and hold up each piece and ask me first if I’d even wear it. “Yep” was my affirmative, “Meh” was the negative…. If I shrugged my shoulders and said “I don’t know” or “I don’t think so”, she’d put it in the yes pile. I soon realized that my vote wasn’t really the deciding voice in the situation, she would know as she looked at it if it was going to be moving into my closet or dresser. She just made me think that I was making the decision.
Most of the time, I hated this process. Every now and then, though, we’d come across a shirt or pair of pants that I remembered my older brothers or cousins wearing that I always thought was pretty cool and I would be thrilled to be in possession of that garment even if I knew that I wouldn't be wearing it for very long.
I idolized my cousins and my older brothers. Garretson was a small town built on traditions of an individual being a Blue Dragon from before you started school and for your entire life as an alum. There was great pride in saying you were a Blue Dragon. Our sports teams were solid competitors and the other activities were numerous and skilled. The little kids in town looked up to the high school kids like they were gods. We all wanted nothing more that to be just like them when we got to be that age. If I wasn't thrilled to be gaining a different "Blue Dragon" shirt, it was likely a "Miller Rustler" shirt in what quickly became my second favorite color, green.
If we weren’t getting hand-me-downs, we’d have to leave town to buy clothes. Garretson did not have any clothing stores after the 1960’s. The drug store DID carry blue striped tube socks and plain white tube socks, which were nice to have when basketball season came around, but we needed new jeans and new shoes at least once a year, so off we would go. Luverne was one option for shopping for clothes. We liked to keep our money local and I think this was one way to keep it in a small town even though we had to leave our town. We’d go over to Luverne for a few things: clothes, vehicles and donuts. I’ll save the tale about the trips over to School Motors for another story - I need to dig into my wood-paneled-station-wagon memory bank before I try to recall it all.
Luverne had a couple of clothing stores that we’d visit usually before school started. We’d head over and buy a new pair of Rustler jeans or Converse shoes so we’d have a nice set of new clothes for those first days of school. Mom didn't us wearing our knee patched jeans when making that first impression to the new teachers. We'd save that for at least a week in.
If we headed to Sioux Falls for clothes, there was only a couple places that we’d typically go: Lewis Drug or JC Penny’s. I don’t remember what things in particular we’d get at any of the stores (although I do remember getting some tennis shoes one time with “S” Curves on the bottom and the guy selling us the shoes said they’re great shoes, but I’d have to be careful coming in from the rain because the worms will sneak in on those grooves in my shoes. I thought he was serious.), but I do remember vividly going into the stores and shopping.
JC Penny’s has always been the same, it seems. There was a smell to place that smelled of large amounts of space and clothes. The bright white dressing rooms were such a stark contrast to the dark and stuffy attic at home that it was a thrill to try on clothes in anticipation of having something of my OWN that was new and bought in the big city of SIOUX FALLS (at the MALL, no less).
Most often, though, we would come in to shop at Lewis Drug. There were a few locations, but we usually came to the closest one to Garretson, Lewis Eastgate. When you walked in, you were greeted with a slap to your olfactory with the smells of popcorn from the concession area immediately to the right. There was an Icee machine swishing the magic cherry slush ice around in the little window that caught our attention and stirred in us the need to immediately begin begging Mom to buy us a treat. One of the earliest and most vivid memories I have is that smell and that store. I remember that mom bought Matthew and I each our own Cherry Icee as we headed into shop and mom put me up into the cart facing backwards with my legs dangling down (I told you that this is a very very early vivid memory… I must’ve been 3 or 4 years old). What happened next is what cemented this moment into my memory as such a traumatic event.
No sooner had I settled in to the seat for the trip around the store to buy some things had mom said to hold that Icee tight and to not drop it. We made it about 10 feet and somehow my little hands could hold the cold glass as tight as I had hoped (or needed) to and in horror, I watched the blue and red striped glass fall down and land on it’s side in a perfect side flop, sending the cherry ice liquid out in a huge SPLAT! More than that moment of the loss of my Icee is what caused this moment to sear into my brain, though. When I expected to be yelled at by my mother, I instead got a look and a statement that I wasn’t getting another one. I remember a worker coming over and saying something to the effect of it not being a big deal, he’d clean it up. I’m sure I cried and was disappointed, but I really thought I had screwed up and was going to get punished. My punishment was the loss of the reward. I was sad and looked at my brother walking along side the cart… he still had his Icee and looked up at me in the cart with a look I’ll never forget. If anyone ever wonders what kind of brother Matthew was to me, what happened next sums it up in his one little action. He reached up and shared his Icee with me. I went from none to having some. If it was only a drink, it was enough. I’ll never forget his selflessness. It seems like such a silly thing now to remember, but I learned so much in that moment. I learned my brother loved me.
When I walk into Lewis Drug today, I still think of that moment. They don’t even make popcorn there anymore, but I smell it in my memory bank. I’m still not a fan of boxes of clothes and whenever I get the urge to buy a slushy or an Icee or a Slush Puppy (or whatever you call it), I hold it with two paddies and do my best to not drop it and every time it almost tastes as good (but not quite) as the one that Matthew shared with me.
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.