We were planning to go to Ireland for our summer vacation, but instead I went shopping for a skirt, or to be more precise, a navy pencil skirt.

That doesn’t sound quite right, so let me back up.

My wife and I enjoy international travel and this year the destination was supposed to be Ireland, but somehow the planning got away from me, so we postponed it. We resorted to a modified “family vacation.”

It began with a trip to Austin to visit my son, Ben. He was coming off a difficult year—laid off from his job, a relationship ended and living in an expensive apartment with a neighbor who blasted his music at 3 a.m.

However, he rebounded nicely.

He has a new and better job, with CBS Interactive, writing about his passion, college football, and a better living arrangement. He also has a new girlfriend. Just observing young love is a healing poultice for the soul.

Parents never stop worrying about their children, but we headed home buoyed by what we saw and heard.

Then we picked up my mother in Charles Town and brought her back to Morgantown with us. She’s turning 89 this month and struggles with the usual ailments that come with age, but she’s still a gamer.

Mother had decided she wanted a blue skirt. Her closets bulge with all the clothes accumulated during a long life, but hey, when your mother says she wants a blue skirt, you get her one.

So we went shopping, just my mother and I, to Talbots, then Belk and finally J.C. Penney. My expertise on women’s clothing is just slightly deeper than my knowledge of quantum physics, but by the third stop I had learned a thing or two and I took charge with the sales clerk.

“My mother is looking for a navy pencil skirt. She’s a petite and wears an eight, but she might also fit in a ten, depending on the brand. Lined would be nice, but it doesn’t have to be,” I said with great confidence.

She tried on various skirts and I offered analysis on style, length and fit until we settled on one, though they didn’t have the navy in stock. Penney’s is going to send it to a store near her home and she can pick it up in about a week.

My wife was working and couldn’t go shopping with us, so that evening we reviewed with her the specifics of our retail excursion. I found myself suggesting that maybe we should go back to Talbots the next day to buy the other skirt my mother liked, but was not plain navy.

But I probably shouldn’t press my luck.

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, and mine has been, but it has also been meaningful in unexpected ways. We still want to go to Ireland … perhaps next year. I’m sure it will still be there.

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