Johnny Cash Lived Here
One word or name or phrase can send you straight down the slippery funnel of personal history, sliding instantly to a time in the forgotten past, feeling every lost feeling, remembering every breath.
Today I was reading an article in the local paper about how Johnny Cash’s first wife, Vivien, is having her autobiography published posthumously (sorry if it is behind a paywall. The local paper is jerky like that). Yes, Johnny Cash lived here. If I drive just a few miles north, I see a sign proclaiming just that. It does not mention that his time in Casitas Springs was his most desperate, drug-addled period of life, but I don’t really blame the town officials for omitting that little fact.
After Johnny left, Vivien stayed behind and raised her four girls here, and did a fantastic job if Rosanne Cash is any indication. Vivien was deeply beloved in the community and it’s impossible to find anyone to say a bad word about her. She passed away a few years back.
Despite all appearances to the contrary, this is not a post about Johnny Cash or even Vivien. It’s about one little name in the article. As soon as I saw it, I was hurtled back in time to an early summer afternoon, standing silently and miserably in a large, rather ill-fitting camel coat.
Scott’s Apparel. It was the fancy store in the mall, back when the mall was an open-air affair, not the enclosed monstrosity of Cinnabon and Disney store it is now.
Fancy is, of course, relative. It was no Bergdorf Goodman. Not even Nordstrom. It was a relic of a simpler time, where the upper-middle class ladies in our town could go and shop for nice things.
But we weren’t upper-middle class people. I was used to nice ladies’ clothing, thanks to my Grandmother’s dress store, Janies in Morgan Hill, California, but my grandmother loved me because I was hers.
I knew just from the window displays at Scott’s, that it wasn’t our kind of store. JC Penney was our kind of store. Montgomery Ward was our kind of store. Scott’s Apparel was for other people. The salesladies there were tall and slim and stern women in their 40s and older, impeccably dressed and made up.
I have no idea what kind of bee my mother had in her bonnet that day. The reason we were out shopping was that she had decided I needed a proper young lady coat to go to on our 9th grade graduation trip to an amusement park. Never mind that it was a trip to an amusement park. Never mind that the average evening temperature in the area where the amusement park is located is about 85 degrees.
Looking back on it, I think my mom was suffering a bit of last child angst and panic. Here I was, 14 years old, headed off for a long afternoon and evening away from the family, something that almost never happened. I think she was determined to wield her Mom Sword to make sure I was going out Good and Proper.
So a coat. The woman at Scott’s narrowed her eyes as she saw us come in. I was dressed in my grubby jeans and polyester t-shirt, as I always was in those days. My fashion sense never really developed and has remained in its embryonic state to this day. Some things just don’t change.
Things never really got better between us and Mrs. Snooty, the saleslady. She treated us like we smelled bad. I might have, given my teenage hygiene routine.
Mom saw some camel-colored pea coats and made me try one on. Thick, luxurious wool. The jacket was a little too large, but my clothing was often purchased a little large, with “room to grow.” It was warm in the store and the gaze of Mrs. Snooty was making me even warmer. I was a sensitive kid and I could always tell when I wasn’t wanted somewhere.
We looked at the price tag. $65. I still remember, 40 years later. A fortune in those days. Would probably be more like $500 today.
“So,” said Mrs. Snooty. “You won’t be taking it, then?”
My mom’s eyes blazed at the presumption. “We WILL be taking it!” she said, triumphantly.
We could see Mrs. Snooty jerk back a little. This was Mom’s Pretty Woman moment.
This explains how I ended up walking around at Magic Mountain on June 12 one year, clutching a very large, heavy, camel-colored pea coat. It never did look good on me or fit right, but we showed Mrs. Snooty, and, at that moment, that was all that mattered.