Consigning Ourselves to Love

Today, I offer you two unrelated vignettes. Or are they?

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Yesterday, I dropped off some loved ones, never to see them again. They had been with me for years, snuggled me warmly, made me feel beautiful… and here I was, abandoning them to their unknown fates. Yes, I am trying to sell old clothes at a consignment store.

I’ve been a proud consignment buyer for years, but my habit of wearing clothes to death means that while I do donate items, I’ve never had the audacity to think people might pay me for them. Recently, though, my mother-in-law moved houses and I found myself with bags of simply gorgeous hand-me-downs. Normally, you might scoff at a 29-year old wearing “retired lady” clothing, but believe me when I say that my mother-in-law is far more stylish than I will ever be, and has the looks and youthful attitude to pull off clothes that any “Mean Girl”  would covet.

Not every garment can be a winner, though. After a few months of test-driving, I did some literal driving to drop off the pieces that didn’t work on me, along with some of my own nicer dresses that I’ve just never worn enough. I’m in a simplicity phase, and cleaning closets is one of the fastest ways to feel accomplished! So now my clothes have two months to prove their worth to the good women of Durham, while I bite my nails and wonder how much my 40/60 split will add up to be.

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Today, I was in my car again on the way to work. Some days are music days; others are for stories. Today was a story day, and I hit play on my 15th-to-last-ever podcast episode of The Story with Dick Gordon.

One reason I both love and fear NPR is you never know what you’re going to get. Will it be a tale that proves truth is stranger than fiction? Will it be a reassuring piece about family? Or will it be something that shakes me to the core?

Jack with a picture of himself during WWII

This morning I listened to “Saved By My Trumpet.” The piece was about a World War II fighter pilot, Col. Jack Tueller, who flew 140 missions and came home safely. As the story began, I learned that Jack had a hard childhood, and his aunt encouraged him to take up the trumpet and use music to work through his feelings. That trumpet brought him a series of what I deem “magical moments” – as a young boy, he played to soothe a dying woman, and his notes were the last sounds she heard on this earth. Years later, he played a fast, difficult piece to welcome first year students to his college, and fifteen minutes later he met his wife. She said that anyone who could play that score must have “strong lips,” and when he offered her a kiss to test them out, she accepted.

Later on, Col. Tueller went to war. He never drank, but he played old favorites every single night to entertain his comrades while they enjoyed their beers. One night, he played despite a direct order not to: he had heard there was a single German sniper hiding behind American lines, and his commander didn’t want the music to draw dangerous attention. However, Col. Tueller couldn’t stop thinking about how lonely and scared the enemy soldier must have been. He took a risk and played “Lili Marleen,” which he called “the Germans’ love song.” The following day, when the 19-year-old sniper was captured, he asked to meet the trumpet player. He said the music had made him think of his fiancé, and he wasn’t able to fire a single shot.

The thing about this story that sent chills down my spine was that, days before he serenade the lone sniper, Jack had been ordered to shoot down innocent French civilians. As he flew his mission path over targeted enemy tanks, he noticed bright spots of yellow, blue, and red on top of each metal behemoth. When he and his fellow pilots figured out that these colors were the clothing of French families, forced onto the tanks by German soldiers in an effort to deter the bombing, they called off the attack. Soon, though, an order came through from the French government: these people were “expendable” in the larger scope of war. Jack’s voice quavered as he recounted the vibrant red movement of one mother’s dress as she realized the Allied bombs were coming, and folded herself around her children.

And yet… just days later, Col. Tueller was able to overlook the memory of those primary colors of sadness and feel empathy for an enemy soldier alone in the woods. Instead of blaming him for the atrocities committed by his countrymen, Jack played him a love song – and that compassion may have saved his own life.

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31 responses to “Consigning Ourselves to Love

    • This one just burrowed into me – I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It’s so worth listening to the story at the link – in Jack’s words, it’s even more powerful.

  1. So moving and beautifully written, Jennie. I, too, enjoy NPR. They share some wonderful human interest stories.

    “Love and compassion are necessities not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” ~Dalai Lama

    • I love that quote. Thank you for sharing! NPR reminds me every day of the sheer amount of stories we all have within us, and how you can never guess who has been through what unless you sit down and talk to each person.

  2. O wow what a story. Going back to your closet, there really is something therapeutic about a nice ordered clothes space. I love minimal living and have reduced my clothes over the past few years to a just a few key items. As for shoes, I’m almost at single digits.. proud. LOL

    • Yes, it’s amazing how satisfied I feel when I’m only surrounded by things I love, instead of just more things. I’ve never been a shoes or purse person, but I tend to horde colorful clothes even if they don’t actually flatter me… I just love rainbows! But they’ll make a better quilt than fashion statements. 🙂

  3. Great story – I still find myself tuning to NPR for the exact same reason. For every story about alfalfa farming in Bulgaria you still find these hidden gems. And I can’t do the consignment stores – too long of a goodbye. Just straight donations so I don’t have second thoughts and go buy back my own clothes.

    • Yes, yes I do. I can’t stop listening to it. I’m obsessed with Spanish love songs – God, can they turn a phrase – but I’d never head a German one before.

  4. Your story from NPR far exceeds my most recent one. Happened to a close friend and her three-year-old child. Child: Mommy, what’s a vasectomy? Mom: Um……………..

    • Ha! A friend of mine recently had a similar experience… “Mommy, what does “abort” mean?” … “Like ‘abort mission’?” “Yeah.”

      She was relieved.

  5. The consignment store is the bomb. We clothed both daughters with items that were practically new. That’s the thing with children’s clothing; much of it only gets worn a few times and then they grow out of it. Who in their right mind would buy Ralph Lauren for a three-year old? People do it.

    • Yes! Children’s clothes – except for a few times a year – are for getting dirty. I never want to tell my kid not to play in something because I’m afraid of staining it.

  6. One of my closest friends often teases me that consignment stores don’t want my used clothing… the things I bring int are too old! :-p Another beautiful post, Jennie. Each one is such a pleasure to read! “Col. Tueller was able to overlook the memory of those primary colors of sadness…” Just delicious!

    • They didn’t take all mine either, Dawn! A few things were very gently turned down as being “a bit too last season” – by which I think they really meant 7 or 8 seasons ago!

      I’m tickled pink that you caught the primary colors line… I really liked that bit, and wondered if anyone would notice. Thanks!

  7. Well, I don’t know where to begin… NPR has kept me in my car for many driveway moments. I even sat in the parking lot at work on Friday to listen to the Story Corp segment-which made me slightly late!
    Anyway, Col. Tueller saved himself and others on many levels that day.
    We have a couple of consignment stores in my town. One is run by the local Episcopal church and the other sells “high end” pieces. I have donated many a item to the former (including my wedding dress from my first marriage).
    Whether we donate, wear or do both, I believe we breath new life into the person who wears the items. All Good Karma. Much like the NPR piece.

    • I love what you said – it was a saving on many levels, and who’s to say the physical one was the most important? You should listen to the full piece at the link. He also talks about playing for his wife over the years, and what her favorite songs were, and it really, really moved me.

      I also love that you donated your wedding dress. Does it make you feel warm all over to imagine how finding it might have been part of someone else’s happy beginning?

      • Hey Jennie! I will definitely listen to the full piece. I find myself going back into NPR’s Archives from time to time (that is how I found Adele all those years ago). I am sure the story will be worth the trip!

        SO many bad things happened at the end of my first marriage and during AND after the divorce. Through it all, I tried mightily to rise above it all. I remember the day that I donated the dress and expressing out loud that the person who chose t buy it would have a happy marriage. I have a feeling it happened! 🙂

        • I have nothing but respect for you for creating that kind of symbolic meaning. We have to mark the things we’ve been through, and I love that you sent the dress on to a second life, instead of, say, burning it. (You must have been tempted.)

          • Yes, the idea did cross my mind. I did burn the wedding album on the second anniversary of the divorce. At that point, I had come to realize the depths of his deceit over the years. It was so wide-ranging and deep and not limited to just me (although I was a heavy hitter). The day ceased to symbolize commitment and truth.

            But the dress was worn by Me and I wore it in good faith and stayed true throughout the marriage. No doubt and no regrets about paying it forward!

  8. I have the same feelings about NPR as you do; I never know what I will receive – but I always know it will impact me. The story of this Colonel made me quiver. War is such a bitch; yet it sounds like this man was able to retain his humanity amid the violence. Wow.

  9. Simplicity in the closet is a beautiful, it really relieves headaches when trying to figure out what to wear. And your short review on the story of the Col. was great. It’s makes you realize how much empathy and love is missing within us for one another. Thanks for sharing!

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