You know the spellbinding glow that mysteriously emanates from the briefcase each time it’s opened in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction? When I envision the Purple Parachute Pants that I wore religiously when I was eight years old, they are saturated in a similarly magical halo.
Now, I don’t use the word “religiously” lightly; I was, in fact, rather obsessed with these pants and I wore them every single day. As I was a precocious tomboy, I spent most of my days tramping through the forest, catching snakes and frogs in the swamp, building precarious tree forts positioned as high as I could climb, rolling down hills of snake grass, and cutting mazes through vast fields of Scotch Broom. None of these activities lent themselves to cleanliness and so, much to my mother’s chagrin, the Purple Parachute Pants were in a constant state of disarray.
I also don’t use the word “magical” lightly; to my eight-year-old mind, the Purple Parachute Pants were the best thing that had ever happened to me, clothes-wise, since, well, actually having to wear clothes. They possessed three of the most important attributes essential to unencumbered exploration: functionality, ease of movement, and material so slippery, it seemed impenetrable by the likes of dirt, mud, and tree sap. (Incidentally, these are all qualities that I still look for while selecting clothes.)Their utility, in everything from carrying tools and toys to scaling creosote-drenched playground structures to withstanding all matter of foodstuff “accidentally” dropped during dinner, ultimately rendered them the only essential component of my defacto uniform. In short: They were perfection.
While my brothers and I are relatively close in age, they were always rather annoyed by me and preferred to go off on their own adventures with each other. A consequence/benefit of this is that I developed an incredibly rich interior life, often spending hours, days, and weeks immersed in a fantastical world populated primarily with creatures of my own imagination. I also pressed our family pets into service, requiring them to play parts in my complicated storylines–a role that our eager German Shepherd was only too happy to play, while our cranky calico cat occasionally emitted a disgruntled mrowr or two, particularly when required to wear some type of costume.
At school, I continued much of my fantastical feats on the playground, sometimes including my classmates but not really concerning myself if they weren’t interested. The Purple Parachute Pants were perfectly suited to the elementary school playgrounds of the 1980s, specifically those on the rural indigenous reservations in Washington State, as they were constructed mostly of old railroad ties, partially rusted metal, and pea gravel. Accordingly, the Purple Parachute Pants were required school attire each and every day.
This state of affairs irritated my mother to no end; she had been raised in a particularly sterile household and, to this day, finds the act of any type of cleaning to be one of relaxation. While I’m sure she must have stolen the Purple Parachute Pants on occasion to wash them while I was sleeping so that they couldn’t actually stand up on their own, any time she attempted to squirrel them away, tell me they weren’t washed and that I had to wear something else, or try to put her foot down and forcefully dress me in different clothes, a magnificent battle would ensue. My meltdowns were prolific and never-ending, my attachment to the Purple Parachute Pants so deep that I was simply unable to function without them. The one concession that I made, albeit begrudgingly, was that when we went to church, I would slip a dress on over the Purple Parachute Pants.
But the fact that her only daughter was going out into the world wearing these disgusting pants was a point of shame for my mother. While other mothers had well-coiffed daughters who sported crisp and clean clothing, I was unkempt and stained, rarely remembering to perform basic body care tasks without consistent prodding. I often forgot that I even had a body, my devotion to my imagination was so complete. Introverted and always observing, it was–and still sometimes is–quite surprising to me when someone noticed that I was there.
Years later, my mother told me that, at her wit’s end, she had consulted my third-grade teacher, Mr. Byers, about what to do about the Purple Parachute Pants. She confessed that she had told him how ashamed and embarrassed she was by them, and that she thought the school or other parents would think I was being neglected because I always looked dirty. He told her not to worry about it, that she should let me wear them and not wash them and that, eventually, the natural cruelty of children would do their work for them and I would be shamed by my peers into not wearing them anymore. This was a revelation to me, however, because I have absolutely no negative memories of the Purple Parachute Pants ever causing me a lick of trouble from anyone but my mother. In fact, as referenced at the beginning of this tale, they held only glorious memories of unencumbered joy.
Now, whether or not my classmates derided me may never be known; since I was generally in my own little world, they may very well have, and I may have not even absorbed what they were doing. So instead of succumbing to the peer pressure proposed by Mr. Byers, the Purple Parachute Pants had a rather mundane demise. One afternoon, I had identified a tree with a Y structure that would be perfect for a perch. I filled my pockets with nails and a hammer, then slowly scaled the tree while balancing a board suitable enough for a reading platform. Upon reaching the Y, I carefully nailed the board into place, then climbed higher and lowered myself down. It was perfect! I could spy everything from high up in the treetops, and no one would bother me–in fact, it would be difficult for anyone to even know I was up there. Now, all I needed was a book. I began climbing down when the unthinkable happened: The Purple Parachute Pants were caught briefly on a small, sharp branch and ripped open, emitting a sharp noise that, because of the nylon material, sounded like a coat being forcefully unzipped.
I was devastated. The Purple Parachute Pants were torn from my mid-thigh to my upper knee, the internal layer of nylon preventing the branch from scratching my skin. Even in their final moments, they had protected me! I ran home sobbing, begging my mother to fix them. She claimed they were beyond repair and threw them away rather unceremoniously. I moped for days. Then, as children do, I eventually moved on to something else, the magical glory of the Purple Parachute Pants continuing to live on as a legend in my own mind–so much so, that I’m writing about them now, 36 years later.
And they’re still the best pair of pants I’ve ever owned.