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17 – The Ghost of Accessories Past

Today I discovered that my mother has been carrying a long-term grudge. It all began with a pair of leggings and The Ghost of Accessories Past.

It has been cold at night for one of two alternating reasons. Either we’ve stopped for the night in a place that’s warm during the day but turns into the arctic at night (I’m talking to you Santa Fe) or we’re someplace that’s still warm enough at night to require the air conditioner. The problem with the air conditioner is that it has a thermostat but apparently it’s just for cosmetic use because there are only two actual temperature levels, either:

1) a little too warm to allow for comfortable sleeping; or

2) Oh m-m-my g-g-god it’s f-f-f-f-freezing! Is it actually s-s-snowing in here?

The only workable solution we’ve found is to turn the air on and bundle up to go to sleep. Since one of us packed only the essentials, which did not include long underwear, that means a trip to the gigantic Mart for provisions.

The gigantic Mart is one of those wonderlands of overstimulation and impulse purchase opportunities. Stacks and shelves of shiny, tasty things rise to the ceiling somewhere up in the stratosphere. Every aisle goes on long enough to meet the daily step count of that (admit it, really annoying) person you know who runs 500 miles daily and could not possibly be in better shape, or to tempt you with uncharitable thoughts about whether or not you could get away with using one of the thoughtfully provided motorized carts. It is the Emporium of Everything.

It’s quite possible that you really can buy anything here, assuming that it’s something legal in at least some states. If they don’t have it, you probably don’t need it. In fact, there’s a good chance that even if they do have it you don’t really need it, but that’s an entirely different issue.

All I need is a pair of warm leggings, a warm t-shirt, and a stick of butter (for the baked potatoes, thank you very much). I walk out approximately a week later with a cart containing half a dozen bags full of marginally useful items and some very eye-catching snack foods. When I finally snap out of the consumer daze halfway across the parking lot I’m not even sure what I’ve bought.

Unpacking it all is like having christmas before halloween. There are things I have no recollection of seeing, much less selecting. I begin to wonder if someone had been following me up and down the aisles, randomly throwing things into my cart when I wasn’t looking just because the entire experience was so distracting that they knew they could get away with it. Maybe every store has its own version of the trickster, tossing things into people’s carts then ducking behind the battery display towers and snickering. It would certainly help explain why no one can go into a store to buy one thing and walk back out again with that one thing and nothing else. Well, no one except that one person, probably the same (now even more deeply annoying) one who runs 500 miles a day.

Fortunately, there is a pair of stretchy pants/leggings/joggers/sweatpants-that-are-suddenly-a-great-deal-more-expensive-now-that-everyone-is-wearing-them—every-day-all-of-the-time at the bottom of one of the bags of loot.

Unfortunately, they are a size too large for me in one direction and a size too small in the other. Still, they’re cozy and warm so I decide they’ll be fine as pajamas for a couple of weeks. There is no way I’m going back into the Emporium of Everything; no telling what I might come back out with.

As it turns out, mom is also a size larger than me in one direction and a size smaller in the other. I put the pants down and head to the back to plug in my phone, and by the time I turn back around she has already changed into them, tossed her own sweatpants into the laundry pile and is busy discovering just how stretchy and comfy the new pants are. She may need to use a walker to get across the room, but she has some superhero level quick-change skills.

When I object, she reaches over to one of the drawers in the RV and pulls out a pair of leggings she’d packed that are too small for her in one direction and too large in the other, and hands them to me. She says they would be a better fit for me and besides, I can consider it payback for her leather belt I borrowed when I was 15 and never returned.

Let’s just start by saying it’s been a while since I said goodbye to being 15.

“Really mom? You’re holding a grudge over a belt? From my teen years? A ghost belt?”

“Well, to be honest I forgot all about that belt until I saw it when you were reorganizing the closet for me.”

Aha. The truth comes out. I don’t even know what belt she’s talking about until she describes it for me.

“You know, that black leather and silver one with the round links. You used to borrow it all the time.”

“Mom, I bought the one in the closet at a thrift shop precisely because it reminded me of the one I used to borrow from you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure mom.”

“Well…” Now I have her. She pauses to revamp her argument.

“Well, these don’t fit you anyway. And I’m your mother. The leggings I’m giving you will be much better.”

I’m suddenly thrown back to childhood and one of those moments when mom, fed up to her eyebrows with my arguing and trying to out-logic her, finally just informs me that she’s my mother and she knows better than I do about some things, and that’s why. It’s weirdly like watching screen-in-screen video, simultaneously seeing the two of us now and the two of us then.

It’s also like watching our history together unfold at the speed of thought and I feel a burst of sympathy for what it must have taken to get all of us through some of the things she managed to get us through. It’s probably impossible to truly appreciate, or understand, or feel compassion for, a parent until you reach the age they were when you were that child.

It’s one of those things about growing older that, when you’re young, you’re always told will happen, at least in some form, even if it’s just that some day you, too, will be both offended and amused that a 20-year-old thinks anyone over thirty is practically dust. There comes a moment when you begin to understand some of the things your parents did that seemed so unfair at the time, when you suddenly see them as whole human beings existing entirely apart from their role as your parents. It’s not necessarily that they were right all the time (or maybe even ever – some family members, some friends, some people do things you don’t need to try to forgive). But for most people a day comes when you finally truly understand that your parents aren’t perfect and they never were. And neither are you.

Mom is still standing there, shaking a pair of leggings at me. I narrow my eyes at her. “The leggings are not the point here, Grudgerella.”

At that she bursts into giggles. Then I try on the leggings she hands me. She’s right, damn it, they really are much better. I don’t think I’m going to tell her.


  1. Kerry Williamson

    One of my favorites so far. Brilliant, Amber!

  2. Ellen

    Oh I love this! What a delightful interlude this morning as I procrastinate just a few minutes longer before work, to enjoy this.

    • Amber Stephens

      I’m always happy to help out a fellow procrastinator.

  3. Maresy pops

    This was awesome….thanks for sharing guys

  4. renee

    This is so good!

  5. Mattheus E Stephens

    This is beautifully done and a delightful read.


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