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Thrift store treasures

Lisa Prater Updated: 10/11/2013 @ 3:39pm

There aren't a lot of places to shop for clothing in Lemmon, South Dakota. I found this out the hard way a few summers ago when my cousin, Becca, got married there. Nearly everyone in our extended family made the trip, including me, my husband, and our two sons, Jake and Luke. (We now have a third son, Will.)

I checked the forecast before we left, and temperatures were expected to be in the 90s. So I packed summer clothes for the boys, plus one pair of jeans. Of course, when we got there, a surprise cold front swept down from Canada, leaving us with frost in the mornings and highs in the 40s. In June.

Having grown up just a few miles south of town in a spot in the road called Shadehill, you'd think I would have been prepared for this kind of wild Dakota temperature swing. And you'd think I would have known our shopping options in Lemmon would be limited. Apparently, you'd be wrong.

My out-of-town cousins were in the same predicament, with nothing appropriate for their children to wear. The JC Penney on Main Street closed years ago, along with most of the other shops I frequented with my parents as a girl. Such is the fate of many small towns.

Aunt Carolyn tipped us off to the thrift store on the lonely north end of Main Street, just a block or so from the railroad tracks that separate South and North Dakota. So, in we rolled -- me and cousins and aunts from Des Moines, St. Louis, Chicago, and California. From the look on the cashier's face, I don't think there had ever been that many people inside the little shop at one time. Especially out-of-towners.

We scanned racks of clothes, hoping to find some gear to keep us and our kids warm. My cousin, Doug, found a fabulous near-neon plaid jacket, which got big laughs when he wore it to Becca and Mark's rehearsal dinner that night. Cousins Emily and Ben found hats and sunglasses from the '70s and '80s that would make most of us cringe, but that the urban teenagers thought were hip.

We tried on all kinds of ridiculous outfits and had a great laugh. Then I found a real treasure. Tucked among the boys' clothes was a cowboy shirt I had to have for Jake. It had a brown yoke and cuffs, and the body was an ivory Western-style print with brown roses. The snaps had mother-of-pearl heads, and there was fancy stitching around the edges of the yoke. Perfect.

Just before we left, I made one last scan of the rack and found an exact replica of the shirt I was holding, only in a smaller size. It was perfect for Luke. And I swear, it hadn't been there just a few minutes earlier. It felt like fate.

A dollar and 50 cents later, I was the proud owner of two small cowboy shirts. Back at the hotel, I looked at them more closely and saw they were handmade. I loved them even more.

I could imagine some dear mother or grandmother standing at the Ben Franklin picking out coordinating fabrics, choosing the perfect snaps, sorting through patterns. I could tell from the care and craftsmanship that went into the shirts that she loved those boys. And now they're grown.

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