Last Saturday, I stood in the store Ragstock in the middle of Ann Arbor, Mich. Surrounding me were vintage dresses, Wonder Woman costumes, an acid wash jean collection, T-shirts featuring everything from unicorns to dancing kittens, boy scout uniforms and, far in the back, a rack filled entirely with bowling shirts.
It was the kind of quirky that only certain stores in certain places can pull off. My step-daughter Gabrielle, of course, was in heaven, and searched vigorously for the perfect 1990s plaid button-up. Then she found some pins she had to have featuring quotes from The Princess Bride. She was beaming in the way only teenage girls shopping for clothes can.
We were there as part of Gabrielle’s college tour marathon, but we’d given ourselves a day to vacation in the area and imagine what life would be like if she attended the University of Michigan.
Everything so far had been an absolute delight. I’d discovered I love Michigan, which, apart from the Detroit airport, I had never visited. The leaves were brilliant red and yellow and the air was crisp and clean. The foliage felt northern and familiar, with poplars and birch trees swaying everywhere. And the roads were wide open and free.
That morning, we had had a delightful and well-priced brunch at a restaurant called Grange, where they were lovely about Gabrielle’s tree nut allergy and where they had chorizo and scrambled egg tacos I won’t soon forget.
Afterward, we’d driven to Union Lake to visit William’s childhood home. He lived there until he was 14, after which his family moved to Somerset. He found the narrow and leaf-covered Petrolia Street right away and we inched down it, with William pointing out where all the neighbors had lived. Happily, the street was charming and the houses were well-maintained, and I imagined what my husband looked like as a boy riding his bicycle down it.
Later, we drove through the University of Michigan campus so we’d know where to go the next morning. We’ve seen a lot of campuses at this point, but none as big as this one; nearly 45,000 students go to school there. The buildings are grand and varied architecturally, with stone, Smithsonian-like libraries parked beside modern structures featuring metal rods and floor-to-ceiling windows. In the center of a quad, we saw a giant, black Rubik’s cube sitting precariously on one of its corners and students spun it as they passed, nearly everyone dressed in the Wolverines’ signature yellow and blue colors.
Imagining Gabrielle attending here filled me with the same ache I’d experienced at every one of the campuses we’d visited, except this time I imagined her lost and trying to find friends and her classes amidst this giant scholarly sea. From the backseat, though, Gabrielle seemed calm and merely fascinated and, frankly, looking forward to the shopping we’d promised her.
We’d seen Ragstock as we’d driven through downtown Ann Arbor that morning on the way to breakfast. I can’t explain enough how pretty and cool that little city is. We’d even been warned about how great it was, but didn’t quite believe it until we arrived. The streets are lined with independent coffee shops, restaurants serving everything from Indian to farm-to-table, little boutiques, and a giant farmer’s market that sells finds like home-made Sriracha and Michigan cherries.
And, of course, there was this Ragstock, which, to a kid from Somerset whose browsing options are limited to Belk’s department store, is about as cool as it gets. I had expected to just stand at the side and watch Gabrielle go nuts, but suddenly my perfect husband rounded the corner and informed me they were selling vintage scarves.
Ever since watching the TV show Offspring, free on Netflix and based in Melbourne about an ob/gyn and her colorful family, I have been obsessed with Nina Proudman’s fashion style. It is anchored by colorful fashion scarves that make every outfit she wears look both put-together and fabulously chic.
I’d scoured Nordstrom’s and Macy’s and had the most luck with Etsy. But now? Here was a wall of silk scarves on display, being sold at the shocking price of 3 bucks a pop.
I stood in front of the mirror and my husband handed me scarf after scarf. I settled on five sassy ones and felt the high you can only get from both a shopping victory and a sweet deal. I knew every time I wore them, I would think of this excellent day we’d had in Ann Arbor, when our kid was still with us, college was still nearly a year away, and a family vacation could turn perfect thanks to a little store in a little city in the great state of Michigan.