Deep in photo albums tucked away in boxes under the steps in the basement, there was a photo of me with my arm around a boy.

Both of us were seniors in high school, both with questionable hair styles, both in bare feet and giant smiles, standing in front of his mother’s couch by the wall with all of the family pictures.

I remember the day like you remember a book you read years ago. Bits and pieces of it stick, the highlights, the main idea, but the details are fuzzy.

It was our birthday party – I just turned 17; he was turning 18. It was the beginning of football season at Watford City High School, so he was freshly scrubbed and clean after locker room showers.

I likely just got off work at the department store on Main Street, a little bored and a little haggard, sort of the way we were all feeling about life as seniors. We were getting ready to pack up our lamps and our tiny TVs and head toward a bigger town that was certain to hold our attention.

Now, I’m only thinking about this because I stumbled across this photo in my hunt for another memory, and suddenly I’ve been reminded of what it was like to be a 17-year-old girl on the verge of leaving. There I am standing next to a boy in his parents’ home, his home, holding on tight and laughing … and wearing bright red, crushed velvet lounge pants.

Oh, I didn’t mention the pants.

The pants are the culmination of this story. The most important part, really, not just of the day, looking back on it now, but of my future with this boy.

Because the pants were a gift from him. My 17th birthday gift.

If it sounds weird, I assure you that it is.

I can’t remember what I got him, but he was probably more interested in me opening my present that day.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, while I was driving to and from school and work at the clothing store, practicing for the school musical and worrying about college, he was going to football practice, hanging out with friends and, at night, sitting down at the sewing machine, and with a little help from his dad, sewing me these red velvet lounge pants.

Why?

Because he saw a pair like them on a girl somewhere and they looked comfortable, and he thought I might like them. He couldn’t find them in any stores around here, so he decided to pick up some fabric at the store downtown, and, well, make a pair himself.

And so there we were, in that picture, his arm around me, so proud of himself, me in the pants made not quite long enough to reach past my ankles, with the crooked butt seam and the rope tassel tie, wondering what kind of boy spends his free time sewing a girl a pair of red pants for her birthday.

Last Sunday I stood next to that boy out in the yard facing a house that’s been under construction for a good two years. I was holding a fence post while he tamped and packed the dirt. I was sort of complaining about all the work left to do, wondering why we can’t be the kind of people who write checks and hire out projects, for crying out loud.

“But isn’t this your favorite part of our marriage?” he asked. “All of the work we get to do together?”

I knew he was joking. There were a million things we would rather be doing, but when I asked him, leaning up against the railing of a new fence we were building, we couldn’t think of one between the two of us.

Then I thought of those two kids in that picture, standing shoulder to shoulder, holding on and laughing at the outcome of an idea, a gift, that just couldn’t be store-bought.

And when we got inside, I dug out that photo and taped it to our bathroom mirror. Because some characters, well, they just can’t be archived.

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