It must be nearing the end of summer. I can tell because I found myself thinking of a gum machine. Not just any gum machine. This one was unique. It was the only gum machine at the top of the stairs leading down into the basement of Cottrell's Men's Store, located at Broadway and Pearl streets in Boulder, Colorado.
The inevitable end of ever summer was signaled, for me, by the purchase of new school clothes. As I grew older, and my tastes became more refined, I blanched at the way my brothers and I were herded down those steps and into the sharp creases and pressed look of the shirts and trousers that were to be found down there. We weren't there to buy jeans. We were there to buy the clothes that would be laid out Monday through Friday mornings. These would be the clothes out of which I would need to change before I could go out and play after school was over. It's a little odd to think that there was a time when this was a real thing, but long before I ever started wearing my khaki slacks and my button-down shirts each day to my teaching job, I had a very similar wardrobe for my job as a student.
I hated to try things on. I knew that there would be a certain amount of it, and the pants were the hardest thing to find that fit. My mother would bring me rafts of different hangers from which I dutifully took off my play clothes and pulled on those scratchy pants that weren't supposed to be any fun. The only part of the experience that made it worthwhile was that since we were underground, we escaped the August heat.
That and the gum machine. I knew if I tolerated a dozen or more attempts at finding a pair of pants that fit my pear-shaped body that I would be allowed take a penny up to the landing, drop it in the slot and pull the lever. Out would come two chiclet-ish squares of chewing gum: red, green, white or yellow. These were immediately consumed and chewed feverishly until the mint or licorice flavor had been exhausted only minutes later. If I made it that far, I knew that we were done.
Then it was up the street to try on shoes at Thorton's. I don't remember there being a gum machine there, but if we bought the right pair of Buster Browns, we got a prize. Only now, as a parent, does it occur to me what extraordinary lengths my mother went through to get us all clothed.