The Breakup Belt.
Any girl who attended a Lexington-area college in the past 30 years or so knows exactly what I'm talking about. Those belts that you see all over town -- at ball games, frat houses and country clubs. The ubiquitous leather-bound needlepoint belts that nearly every Central Kentucky man owns. Lexington is a preppy little town, and nothing conveys that style more than a needlepoint belt. They proudly display the wearer's fraternity affiliation or favorite hobbies or profession. They present elaborate scenes of horse racing, sporting events or even bourbon labels. They're the product of long hours of tedious needlework, lovingly stitched by mothers, wifes, and dedicated girlfriends.
I tempted fate -- and lived to tell the story.
Now, the girlfriend part is where it gets tricky. Campus lore at Transylvania and UK alike held that, as soon as you make a needlepoint belt for your beau, he'll break up with you. And, let me tell you, those things aren't cheap; they're a major investment of time and money. You spend hours picking out just the perfect belt. You peruse the huge selection of pre-painted canvases at
, or you order a customized monogram-and-favorite hobbies canvas from
. You spend all your free time stitching the design. You obsess about getting it just the right size. (If memory serves me correctly, your finished canvas should be four inches less than the desired belt size... or maybe it's two...) You realize you have to learn the finishing stitch -- the complex braided pattern that binds off the top and bottom and creates a surface onto which the leather backing will be stitched. Then, when your work is finally finished, you send it off to be leathered. And you wait. Finally, when you're utterly exhausted with the project, you give the belt to its intended recipient. And you hope he doesn't dump you after all that work.
Now, I made plenty of needlepoint belts when I was in college and graduate school. I made them for myself, my parents, and my brother. I even designed a custom collar for my beloved dog, Molly. I was well known as the designated "finisher" of other people's belts. If a sorority sister was stuck on her boyfriend's belt pattern, I finished it up in a day or two. If a cousin needed to learn the finishing stitch, I whipped it up for her. But, I stayed far away from making a breakup belt for a boy of my own. I'm a sports fan and, as such, am as superstitious as a medieval villager. You don't laugh in the face of a curse -- just ask a Red Sox fan how that works out. Anyway, I figured that I'd let those cousins, sorority sisters, and other friends tempt fate for me. I'd show those girls the stitches, take them to my favorite leather shop, and hope that I wasn't assisting in a jinx.
Just over seven years ago, I found myself looking for a very special present for a new beau. We'd only been dating a few weeks, but I knew he was The One.
Did I dare start things off in such a foolhardy fashion?
Was a hand-stitched UK belt the worst Christmas present ever?
I deliberated for quite a while. And then, I remembered my aunt saying that she'd made my uncle a Doctor-themed belt during his medical residency -- twenty years later, they were happy as ever and had just welcomed their first grandson. Maybe the curse had more to do with relationships that weren't meant to be. Maybe girls just shouldn't be belt 'hos, and throw a bunch of time and money into making elaborate presents for guys they aren't too sure about.
Seven years later and my then-new beau is now my fiancé. We've been through three surgeries, three cities, two dogs, and an intensive graduate program. And R's belt -- a UK basketball pattern -- still looks great. It seems that a piece of thread, canvas and leather doesn't really hold much of a curse.