Billboards advertising a discount megastore blanket the side I-95 in North Carolina. I have always been curious about this megastore, and this last weekend my mother-in-law and I stopped on our way to Georgia. The place was huge. I wandered around for a few minutes, finding shot glasses and snow globes, then went looking for my mother in law, Carol. I found her in the hats and boots section. Cowboy hats and boots.

I asked jokingly, "Are you getting a cowboy hat?"

"Yes I am. I've always wanted a cowboy hat"


"Yes, and I was thinking about getting these blue-green cowboy boots too. What do you think?"

"But... I mean... I guess....yeah, cowboy boots."

Just then the store clerk came by. "These heels are better. They are wider; the other heels are more for going out to clubs," the clerk said.

What were they talking about before I got there? I imagined my mother-in-law as an extra in the movie "Urban Cowboy"

The sales clerk asked, "What about these pink ones?" I wanted to scream "Nooooo. Not pink cowboy boots."

But I didn't.

In the end, my mother-in-law got the muted turquoise boots and a straw Stetson cowboy hat. In the car back on the highway, I summoned my courage. "Can I ask you why?"

"I have always wanted them," she said, "and I looked around Fairfield County and found they were too expensive. They were much cheaper here, so I bought them."

I was stunned.

"I have been in this family for 20 years, and I never knew you wanted to be a cowboy," I said. "You graduated from Wellesley; you go to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. You do the Sunday Crossword puzzle in pen!"

"You know, I have spent too much of my life being who other people wanted me to be," she replied. "These were a good deal. The heel is sturdy. All I need now is some skinny jeans."

"Hey, whoa, wait a minute," I cautioned." Skinny jeans? You're over 70."

"The skinny leg jeans," she said. "I have boot cut jeans, but they go out over the outside of the boot. I want to show off my boots. What are the ones called that go inside the boot?"

"I'm not sure you should ask me," I said "Maybe we'll call Caroline. I have learned so much about you and western wear in the last 20 minutes."

This episode reminded me of a poem a few years back that inspired a movement. The poem, "Warning," begins:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves...

"Warning" was written by an English woman, Jenny Joseph, and it begat a club called the Red Hat Society.

The difference between the poem and my mother-in-law is the cowboy hat and the boots did suit her. Sure, they would look better with some skinny jeans, but that was another trip.

As New Englanders traveling through North Carolina, we don't wear red hats. We don't wear those silly hats that the women wore to the last royal wedding. We wear cowboy hats. We fought a war to be able to wear cowboy hats.

I recall that wat it had something to do with taxation and representation, but that's not the important part. The important part is we don't have to eat Bangers and Mash, and we don't have to watch "Downton Abbey" if we don't want.

Okay, "Downton Abbey" may be a bad example. My mother-in-law is hooked on the show. She watches it down at the Pequot Library in Southport on Friday nights. But next time, she can watch it all spiffed up like Annie Oakley.

After the stop in North Carolina, we had about five more hours in the car. That was enough time for her to explain that she had done enough in her life of what people expected her to do. She was her high school class valedictorian, a Wellesley graduate; married an Ivy League grad, raised four children and managed a household.

She is over 70 and she still loves classical music and the opera, but the last few years, her grandson Jason has introduced her to country music and she wants to go to a country music festival this spring Virginia. Now she has the outfit. She will need to break in the boots before then, so she might have to go to a nightspot that has country music. She may have to wear the Stetson gardening.

I think the poem has it wrong-- the hat does suit her.

And it was reasonably priced.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at: