SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, recording the stories of veterans and their families. Duane Topping has tattoos up and down his arms and wears a well-worn leather jacket, says he used to spend a lot of time in dive bars. He's also a vet and served three tours in Iraq as a U.S. Army specialist before medically retiring in 2012. While deployed, he found comfort in an unlikely place.
Duane came to StoryCorps with his wife Jamie to recall his time in the military and his transition to civilian life.
DUANE TOPPING: I would go where you could pick up care packages. And they'd split them up - male, female. Well, I always went to the girl ones because I liked the scents better. I liked the soap better.
JAMIE TOPPING: And I would tease you (laughter).
D. TOPPING: I liked the lotion. I still do. Instead of the Sports Illustrated and the Men's Health, I would go find the Vogues and the Marie Claires. Once I retired, I didn't know what I was going to do with myself.
J. TOPPING: You lost yourself.
D. TOPPING: I mean, I tried being a motorcycle mechanic. That lasted about three weeks (laughter) - and then - I don't know - number of nights and early mornings in dive bars and passed out in parks.
J. TOPPING: I would have to go and find you in the yard at night, when you would have flashbacks.
D. TOPPING: Digging foxholes, I guess (laughter).
J. TOPPING: I don't know.
D. TOPPING: When I decided I was going to sew and I came home (laughter) with that sewing machine, and I was like, I'm going to do it right now.
J. TOPPING: And I literally just shook my head.
D. TOPPING: Do you remember the first thing I made?
J. TOPPING: Yes, a purse.
D. TOPPING: It was upside down.
J. TOPPING: And inside out.
D. TOPPING: At first, it was just a hobby. And then, you know, it blossomed from there.
J. TOPPING: Yep.
D. TOPPING: Those first designs - I didn't know how to do zippers. I couldn't do sleeves. And I just - it wasn't ever really about...
J. TOPPING: But it didn't frustrate you.
D. TOPPING: No.
J. TOPPING: You just kept working.
D. TOPPING: And that was just it. It was - because at that time, it was so much about finding my peace. So much of the world is just noise. And for me, it's that noise that brings the anxiety. When I sew, that world of noise and chaos is a world that I have control over. It's only 6 inches. And that's my 6 inches. And no one else can get in there. And I think for me, that's where the peace is.
(SOUNDBITE OF FREDRIK'S "MILO")
SIMON: Duane Topping, remembering how he got his start in the fashion business with his wife, Jamie Topping. Since those early days of sewing, Duane and Jamie now run a successful design house out of Denver. They recently returned home from their first official show at New York Fashion Week. Their full interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
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