My mother seldom talks about herself as a young adult, she very much lives in the now. But when the rare nostalgic wind sweeps her thoughts I’m there listening to every word, because more than anything in the whole wide world, I wish I wish I wish, I remembered every single moment of my childhood when my mother was this woman that I can feel myself becoming.
At 23 she had me, and a few years later she made the best decision in my life. The memory is fading, but I can vaguely remember stuffing a car with hangers and boxes and taking my last glimpse of my grandparent’s house in Corpus Christi, Texas. From there it’s as if I teleported to my beloved city, Portland, because I have absolutely no memory of the trip. But poof, there we were in our small studio apartment on NW 23rd surrounded by the trees my mother says she moved for. In the mid 90s, NW 23rd was not the yuppie haven it is now. It was a little rough around the edges, a little faded, a little ripped, it was your favorite flannel in the form of a neighborhood. And I loved the hell out of that flannel. There was this guy that rode his bike all over the place and he would stop in front of you, curl his hand into a tube, put it to his eye, and intently ask, Can you see it?! CAN YOU SEE IT?! I really miss that guy, no ounce of sarcasm in that statement. He was part of the character of that area, I might even go as far as saying was the character of that area. I really miss a lot of things about the neighborhood, too much has changed.
I’ll miss nothing more than my mom’s vintage shop though, I continuously beg her to open it up again, but she continuously dismisses me, I already did that, I’ve moved on. I wish everyone could have seen her store through my child eyes, because only then do I think everyone would understand how lame it is that her excuse is I already did that. It was so amazing. The store was a few blocks from our apartment, past the hospital by a bit, and down two blocks on NW 21st and Northrup. Right outside of the shop stood her hand painted sign that read ‘Ropa Usada’ in warm colors (which she commissioned a homeless old hippy to do for her), and right inside were two mannequins (that I gave the final okay to in terms of outfits), and a staircase to mother fucking heaven. It was a little kid’s dream: endless options for dressing the part in any make believe game I could literally imagine. And it gets better! Below Ropa Usada was the best place to showcase outfits: Anna Banana’s. It was my LA, New York, London, and Paris fashion week that happened every week of the year. When I arrived at my mom’s shop, my first move was to inspect the new clothing, and if there was nothing that interested me, I’d revisit my old favorites, always putting a new twist on things as to not repeat myself. One of my favorites was this beautiful aqua mini-dress. It had a tight crew neck with an opaque body that was very boxy, very late 60s, and flowing chiffon sleeves that came in at the wrists with a band of the body’s material and a big round white button. I’d throw that on paired with a hat and whatever shoes I was wearing, at a young age I knew that walking with confidence took shoes that fit. And then, walking with all the confidence in the world (that my shoes could muster), I’d enter Anna Banana’s to be greeted by the smell of coffee and clove cigarettes. Everyone knew me, the regulars at least, and they’d chant, Princess Leah, Princess Leah! That might be a memory through a bit of a conceited lens, but dressed the way I used to, I couldn’t help but be a bit of a diva. The back room of the coffee shop was where all the Metropolitan Learning Center kids hung out when they were skipping school, and because they were teenagers, they were basically gods to me and I clung to them with every single one of my pint sized finger nails. I’d give them tattoos in sharpie, tell them their cigarettes would kill them one day, and more or less give them the best fashion advice a kid could give. I was the cool aunt they never had in a small child’s body. They loved me. But if only they could have got to know my mother, she was a little too busy to be giving tattoos and advice. She did make frequent trips downstairs for a “Doo Dee Doo”, espresso mixed with coffee (which enabled her to single handedly rip out all the carpet from the store and remove it, if that’s not a caffeine high… what the hell is?!). I’m sure they at least got a glimpse of her then, and if they hadn’t, they were missing out. Of course my mom looks good now, but I’m currently obsessed with the 90s, so my mother circa 1990-something looked fucking fantastic. She had short straight across bangs with a chin length bob, never wore (and still doesn’t) a drop of makeup except for the occasional deep, dark, rep lip, and always, always, a perfect outfit. Some might imagine a vintage storeowner to wear something flashy, something eccentric, something straight from the rack of the store, and a lot of owners do, but my mom kept it simple. She mixed in pieces, be it a broach, a jacket, shoes, whatever, she styled herself perfectly. Her favorite outfit was a long black skirt with a banlon turtleneck.
I keep the memories of growing up in a vintage shop way too close to my heart. The memories creep up on me every morning when I’m picking my outfit, every time I go shopping, every time I do anything just about. I’d never trade them for anything, except maybe a vintage Channel clutch… but I’d probably regret it in an instant if I did.