TRAVEL BUG TALES: WHERE ARE THE HANG UP CLOTHES?
So, we’re on the road El Paso and somewhere in the middle of the wide open plains of West Texas, Mom turned to me and said, “Did you get the hang-up clothes?”
Merle Haggard got it right, “Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied / That leaves only me to blame ’cause Mama tried.” I’ve turned out a little better than the guy in Merle’s song, but I certainly fell short of my mother’s expectations. Of course, her hopes for me were so high that most folks would have fallen somewhat short.
My parents were the practical sort and weren’t sure what to do with the mercurial butterfly which landed in their family. They kept trying to herd me in a direction which seemed safe and secure, but I kept hanging out on the edge of the envelope. Once in later years, after being introduced to my latest crush, my mom asked in frustration, “Couldn’t you, just for once, fall in love with someone named Smith?” It never happened.
Small Steps to Responsibility
Since I was not born with the innate sense of responsibility and old fashioned work ethic my parents seemed to have, they endeavored to engender these values in me. From this side of my life I’d say they did a pretty good job, but things must have seemed pretty hopeless just about the time we were on the road to El Paso.
My mother had walked into my bedroom the night before we left and hung a garment bag in my closet. Remember those blue nylon zippered jobs? That’s what it was. Most likely the other bags were already stowed into the car. I’m sure Mom had them packed at least a week ahead. There would have been a beige Samsonite tote bag, with a celery green lining, waiting next to door into the garage for us to put our toiletry bags into – as soon as we brushed our teeth, of course, after our good breakfast. Getting the tote bag was Dad’s responsibility. Getting the garment bag was mine. Ruth did everything else.
If you’re wondering why Mom didn’t go ahead and put the garment bag into the car with the rest of the bags, then you didn’t know Ruth. The garment bag held our best clothes and got special treatment. The knit short sets and other items we wore could be folded into a suitcase, but not our best things. After laundering, each item was meticulously ironed and stuffed with tissue paper. If it was fresh from the dry cleaner, it might still need ironing. Mom was fastidious about wrinkles long after the rest of us forgot where we stowed our irons. If Mom could have stood in the car holding the hang-up clothes, she would have. As it was, the bag was always the last thing in and the first thing out.
On other vacations, I’m sure Mother took care of this little chore herself, but since she was in the process of imbuing me with a sense of responsibility, she saw it as a perfect task for me. I mean, how hard could it be? Nonetheless, amid the excitement of donning the assigned outfit, making up my bed, heating up and eating my PopTart, brushing my teeth and finally putting my toiletry bag in to the tote bag, the garment bag was forgotten. In my defense, no one else mentioned the garment bag and I was only 12.
It’s Too Late Baby, Now
Having finished with Merle Haggard, we’ll move on to Carol King. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point in our drive to El Paso, Mom turned around and said, “You did get the hang-up clothes, didn’t you?” Had someone put a stack of Bibles in front of me, I couldn’t have sworn either way. In my mind, I could see myself turning the bag over to my father, but a sinking dread in my stomach alerted me to the fact that this scene might not have happened. “I don’t know, ” I said, “I think I might have.”
You, of course, realize that the garment bag was still hanging in my closet. Can you guess what happened next? Come back next week and I’ll tell you.