It was the summer of 1973. I had asked my mother for permission to go, and she was not happy with me. It was the first time she’d had to face my growing sense of independence, and it was to be my first summer away from home, no less with a boyfriend. I had to swear to her that I would not tell my younger sisters that I was spending the summer with two boys- but in the end, she let me go, paying just for my plane ticket there and back in a grudging act of complicity. Clay and his younger brother, Charlie would meet me there in Colorado. She made it clear that if I chose to do it, I would be on my own with no other help from her. And so it was that I went, meeting the two boys in Colorado Springs. From there, the three of us set out in Clay’s navy blue VW station wagon. We first drove up to the top of Pikes Peak and then down again toward Aspen, past Basalt and on into Glenwood Springs. Once we secured our apartment, I spent a week combing the small town for a job, eventually begging my way into a position at the concession stand for the Hot Springs pool. Clay, my boyfriend, had arranged in advance to be working at the local newspaper, while his brother, Charlie, found a job as a grease monkey for a gas station in town.
Every morning at six AM, I would walk down the narrow streets to the resort to peel the one hundred pound bag of potatoes that waited for me there. I learned how to clean the Taylor soft serve machine and fill the Fryolator with oil- all in preparation for the throngs of summer vacationers who would soon be in line for the fast food we served with frantic efficiency.
Every night, I came home exhausted, infused with the fumes from the Fryolator. The clingy aroma of french fries and onion rings, seemed to permeate everything- my clothing, my hair, my fingers and every inch of my skin. I would arrive home and climb into the bath to soak in huge quantities of Calgon in an attempt to neutralize the smell.
I eased myself into the tub feeling like an enormous French fry, trying to change its basic makeup. The effort was always something of a failure as the dirty clothing in the corner of the bedroom remained- an olfactory reminder which would linger there until the next wash day.
The three of us had the minor misfortune of not having a common day off. Somehow, we hadn’t managed to secure free time with each other outside of evenings, leaving each of us on our own for most of our days off.
And so it was. I was left to wander by myself, either to run errands or linger closer to home, plunking myself down on a bench in the preschool playground next door to bask and read. Occasionally, I would window shop, cruising down main street marveling at the strange mix of establishments, and the vaguely alien culture in which I found myself. Everything could be found in those windows. There were displays of basic house dresses and utterly utilitarian underwear alongside windows displaying vast arrays of sundries- bobby pins, lighter fluid, baby booties, hammers and candy. It was a time and place in which no mall or superstore existed, and so, like all small towns at the time, the entire burden was taken up by local shops. And everywhere, it seemed, there were guns, often displayed on the walls behind the counters near the register. In the front, in the store windows, there was an occasional handmade sign with the legend, “Hippies not welcome”, and although I was indeed from the younger side of that generation, I knew I was not likely to be be mistaken for one of them. Still, the combination of the signs and guns left me feeling out of my element, and I proceeded with caution, wherever I went. This was clearly the land of cowboys and those who would be cowboys- and I was surely an outsider.
One afternoon, as I made my way down main street on my day off, one particular display caught my eye, and I stopped transfixed, looking up through the dirty plate glass. It was something truly lovely- a romantic white gauze dress with spaghetti straps, which was printed all over with daisies in watercolor hues. The bodice was encircled, empire style, by a lemon yellow satin ribbon which was tied in a bow at the front. I was all of twenty years old that day, and this, this was my dress- if only I could afford it. The fully visible price tag told me otherwise, but I couldn’t turn my attention elsewhere or set myself in motion away from the spot. As I stood in admiration, it sank in that I had no money for such a thing, and a wave of regret hit me sideways. My eyes welled ever so slightly, and at the same time, I felt a rush of embarrassment. But still, there it was before me in its absolute splendor- and I would not be bringing it home with me. I couldn’t afford it, no matter how I wished I could, and my mother, who surely would not indulge me after what I’d done, was nowhere nearby to come and take pity on me now, even if she might have. In the window, the embodiment of grace and happiness and all things beautiful hung there for my childish and unrequited desire.
It seemed impossible that anyone could adore it as much as I did. I wanted Clay to see me in it- to wear it somewhere nice with him- perhaps to a concert or a dinner out. I imagined that in it, I would be prettier, and he might somehow love me all the more.
Silly girl, I thought to myself- how wrong headed it was to want any piece of clothing so much- and sillier yet to imagine it had such magical powers! The truth was, the best we could afford that summer was the drive-in movie theater in town where they served 3/2 beer and hot dogs and anyway, we’d only gone there once.
It finally sank in. I had neither the place nor the means to wear it. I turned away, concurrently ashamed of myself and laughing at my own folly.