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Take a Trip Back

06/30/2009 05:00PM ● Published by Wendy Sipple

Illustration by John Stricker.

Be careful how you pack for vacation this summer. As a kid it got me in trouble right in front of a bunch of nuns.

See, my dad’s summer vacation was never officially over until he got the photos back. They were always slides – sometimes hundreds, which he would then show in presentations that could last nearly as long as the vacation itself. When he’d run out of relatives and friends, I think he’d actually go pick up drifters off of the highway and bring them back to our darkened living room.

Of course, slide shows – or even film – are pretty much history, replaced by the dummy-proof digital age where nearly every photo can be made perfect...which isn’t a bad thing. There used to be nothing more disappointing than getting vacation photos back and most were over-exposed, under-exposed or so out of focus that if you had one of Aunt Gladys next to a bison in Yellowstone Park, you couldn’t tell which one was which. Come to think of it, that was a tough deduction even in focus, but I digress.

My dad though was an excellent photographer, and most of his best work was done in the ‘70s...when women’s pantsuits were popular. My mom had several. On vacation, Mom always packed lightly, never more than a couple of outfits. For our southwest vacation of 1972, those outfits would be of course, pantsuits, and she packed her two favorites: one, a bright yellow/green day-glo citrus number; the other, a blue/white plaid thing with collars the size of condor wings.

Of the 56,000 slides from that trip, Mom is in 75 percent of them, wearing one of the infamous suits. Now, on other trips she’d packed lightly too, but they weren’t pantsuits. Simple blouses, tasteful slacks...you don’t notice. But, pantsuits, you notice. Soon, majestic settings like Bryce Canyon would yield to the woman who looked like a polyester lemon tree.

Mom’s got a great sense of humor, so for the first few dozen showings she’d quickly point out her fashion redundancy and laugh it off. But eventually it got to her. She would watch in silence, her mouth pursed in a manner I used to call her “sphincter lips,” shifting uneasily as the next image clanged down from the screen like a missed chord.

All of which leads to the nuns. When Dad would run out of friends (or hitchhikers) to show his slides to, he’d take the show on the road. One of those places was the convent where my sister was a nun. Yes, my sister was a Sister.

There were about 30 nuns, and I remember everyone being in a good mood – probably glad to get a break from all that praying. When the lights went down, Dad began clicking slides through the projector. As the second pantsuit appeared, little Tom decided to be funny. I spoke up cheerily, advising everyone that for the next hour and a half, they were only going to see my mom in those two outfits and boy does she hate ‘em both now! Quick as a viper, she snatched my hand and hustled me out to the hallway, where I spent the rest of the show while she went for “a walk.” I don’t think Dad ever noticed we were missing.

Looking back, I wish I could’ve been cognizant enough to mention that if ever there was an audience that wouldn’t care about somebody wearing the same thing every day, it’d be a group of nuns. But I was eight. However, despite my young age, I did learn a valuable lesson: To this day, in my vacation photos, you’ll never see me wearing a single pantsuit.


Catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1.

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