Under Cover

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This spring and early summer in the Okanagan (and other, more far distant places I’ve read about) can hardly be described as balmy. Not so much gloriously sunny as one might hope. In fact, it’s been wet. And while it’s certainly not the rainiest June in memory (does anyone remember the soggy June of 1990?), sun breaks have been few and fleeting.

But there is an upside for a collector of umbrellas such as myself. When I’m not trying to juggle a baby carrier, a purse and a vivacious three-year-old (who has any hands left over?), I am able to walk proudly through the rain sheltered in style.

I started collecting umbrellas some time early in my university days. It all started with a Ralph Lauren brolly I got with a purchase of perfume. It had a leather handle and quality, cotton fabric that sported a rich-looking green polo plaid. At the top was a golden metal tip, which was getting really scratched up before it was tragically stolen one day. I used it a lot when I lived in England for university, and when it wasn’t raining (which it inevitably didn’t do whenever I brought it along on excursions to London) I used it as a designer walking stick.

I’ve never found another one like it, but my quest to fill the emptiness its departure left has resulted in a not-small collection that offers something for every mood and whim.
The one I’m most inclined to use today is a bold red one I bought in Vancouver a few years ago with the with words “FCUK Rain” emblazoned around the circumference. Yes, it’s blatant branding (FCUK is French Connection United Kingdom, one of my favourite stores despite the fact that I have to pay them to to do their advertising), but it hints at my attitude toward the rain as it stubbornly outstays its welcome.

When I want a more classic, “Singing in the Rain” look, I pull out a souvenir from my 18 months in Korea – my “dungle-dungle” umbrella (the Korean expression my friend used to describe what I was looking for to store clerks). It’s black with a white edge around the bottom and it’s gloriously round (“dungle” means something along the lines of “round and fat”). It always gets comments when I use it.

Each brolly gets a turn as my favourite – although, like children, it’s really hard to choose just one favourite for all time. One of the neatest ones I have can’t be used any more because the first time I went out with it, it disintegrated in my hands. A gift from a friend who always finds the most perfect treasures, it was, I believe, old enough to be considered vintage. I don’t know its story, but I suspect it hails from an antique shop somewhere in London, where she lives. Anyway, after about three minutes in Vancouver’s polluted rain I heard a “shup-shup” sound and two seams were torn from bottom to top (thus, the FCUK purchase). Different from your typical umbrella, it boasted a classic Asian shape – flat across the circumference, coming to a dangerous point at the top. In place of a handle there was a giant metal ring. I still have it. May even repair it someday.

The destruction of this umbrella led that same friend to track down and present as a wedding gift a brand new white one (pictured top with my lovely niece, Avery Philip) that had a similar look. I use it when I want to look particularly elegant, rain or shine.

I wish I’d had it a few months earlier when my husband and I had our engagement photos taken in the rain. We were caught off guard by the sudden shower, and had only the rickety gray umbrella he had in the back of his car. Still, it upped the romantic aura in the photos, don’t you think? Umbrellas inevitably do that.

People don’t use umbrellas much in Kelowna, which really gets me worked up when I see them walking like hang-dogs through the pouring rain, sometimes with a soggy paper over the head. I’m not sure what they have against umbrellas. Maybe its because we refuse to believe it really rains here in the California of Canada?

Not that I’ve never been caught short (it really is sunny, usually – sometimes even while the rain is coming down). But even when that happens I refuse to adopt hangdog position. “When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high,” the song says, so that’s my approach. Sometimes, doing so is even more fun than using an umbrella – but only sometimes. In general, a good umbrella is a must have – for keeping your countenance dry, and for looking good while you do it.

– Story and photos by Lori-Anne Poirier

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