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How I fell in love with my dream ‘UtoteM’ at a rural convenience store

By Kelley Snowden
The Daily Yonder

When I was a kid I was fascinated by what we now call “convenience stores,” little stores that sold everything from groceries to small toys. I called them all “UtoteMs” because there was one a few miles from our house named that. It had a big red and green sign and a stylized totem pole in front. I loved our UtoteM . It even had a coin-operated horse in front. I could put a quarter in the slot (after begging one off my dad) and go for ride, grinning like a jack rabbit. Today, I occasionally slip up and refer to our local convenience store as the UtoteM. This usually gets worried looks from my husband.
As a rural long-distance commuter, I am dependent on the convenience store. I make a stop every morning at our local one in Overton, primarily for coffee and much needed conversation. If I need gas on the way home, I’ll stop at the big fancy one in Mt. Enterprise.
The Mt. Enterprise “convenience store” out on the highway is actually two stores in one: a fast food place and an attached store. It’s absolutely glorious. The bathrooms are freakin’ huge and clean, and the coffee is pretty good. The staff is always nice; somehow they manage a cheery greeting no matter the weather or hour. But what fascinates me about this place is that it’s much, much more than a convenience store. It is a small department store. They sell everything from beer and potato chips to handbags and gifts for all occasions.
Wait, did I just say handbags?
O.M.G. Handbags.
You have to understand, handbags (and shoes) are two of my addictions (yes, I have more than two). I love handbags. I love the feel of them, the satisfaction of being able to stuff my entire life in a single space, and the thrill of hunting for some lost object at the very bottom, buried in the faux leather darkness.
I buy most of my handbags either at the mall or online, and as much as I crave them, I really don’t buy them that often, maybe once a year, usually more like every couple of years.
When I make the investment in a new handbag, it’s got to last. I still use handbags I got in high school – they are timeless, classic pieces (now  “retro,” so that makes me cool with the hipsters).
Buying a new handbag for me is no easy purchase. It has to meet all kinds of criteria. Is it nice looking? Is it well made? Will it suffer abuse well? Is it big enough to hold all my crap and not pull my shoulder out of its socket?
So imagine my surprise when I fell in love (at first sight) with a handbag I saw at the convenience store in Mt. Enterprise.
Walking in the store, I was immediately at once blinded and mesmerized. There it was, shining like a beacon in the darkness of dawn. Big and black, with enough bling on it to stop a bullet. It could be carried as a satchel or as shoulder bag. It had compartments. And it even had a matching wallet. With room to spare, this handbag could hold everything I might carry, anything from a severed head to a live opossum, depending on how well things have gone that day.
I was helpless before its grandeur.
Drawn to get a closer look, I first checked the price tag. I thought it was overpriced (for goodness sakes, it’s being sold in a convenience store and you want how much for it?). It was lightweight. I wasn’t sure about the stitching – it looked a little iffy.
And the bling – western-themed, big buckle bling. Something I have always avoided, I’m really not the rodeo type. I’m no skinny little barrel racer, I’m an old, big butted trail rider, more partial to slow moving horses than equine crotch rockets. So I was thinking this wasn’t going to work me. It’s just not me.
So I bought my coffee and left.
I’ll be damned if I didn’t think about that darn handbag all freakin’ day. I worried: Will it be there this evening when I drive home? Will some trucker buy it for his girlfriend? What will I do if it’s gone?
I grew convinced that the outside of the handbag was invisibly painted with crack or some other highly illegal and immediately addictive substance that I had absorbed through my skin. How else could I explain my feelings toward it? No doubt about it, I was in love, and desperate.
It called to me: “You’re old enough to want what you want, and not apologize for it. You’re a strong willed, sensible woman. You work hard. You NEED me.  I will be your everything.
“When you are exhausted, I will help you carry the load. When you are happy, I will hang jauntily from your shoulder and pronounce to the world that you are confident, not to be messed with. And if you ever find yourself in danger, I will be there for you as you swing my weight into your attacker’s face and knock him to the ground.”
I can’t explain it. In my heart I knew it wasn’t for me, like the bad boy with the wisp of a moustache in the black leather jacket standing behind the school house smoking.
So on my way from work I stopped, made the purchase (although I resisted the matching wallet successfully) and walked to my car swinging my new found companion with glee. I got looks from women both coming into the store and leaving. They stared at me, looked at the bag, and smiled. They knew how I felt. We bonded in silence.
That is until one of them yelled at me from across the parking lot “Damn it! I was just coming in to buy that!”

Kelley Snowden, an Adjunct Professor, teaches geography at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. She is also a research associate with the Center for Regional Heritage Research at SFASU and a chronic handbag collector. You can read more about rural life at www.dailyyonder.com

The author’s convenience store find. (Photo courtesy of dailyyonder.com)

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