This Old White Shirt
Weekly, someone tells me, “ I have this shirt ( jacket, pants, dress ),” They laugh and shake their head. “ I know it’s ridiculous, but I really love it. It’s frayed at the cuff ( full of holes, too small, too big, not much left of it). I can’t part with it. Why is that?”
I laugh with them. I have some of those, too. In particular, a white shirt I bought in 1984. It’s frayed at the cuff, has a big tear in the back, it is so thin you can read the newspaper through it, and I can’t part with it.
Believe me, I have tried. Every few years I put it in the basket headed for The Home of Hope, only to pull it out at the last minute. One time, I dug it out after carrying the basket inside. Crazy. The girls there pretended not to notice, surely they see it all the time.
Every once in a while I wear it. Has to be some place special though.
A single mom raising two little girls on a bartender’s wages in 1980's Texas, I was not in the habit of wandering into expensive department stores just to look around. I made our clothes, with few exceptions. I spent money on good shoes, however.
When my oldest girl was trying to walk at barely eight months old, my mom bought her a pair of Buster Brown Oxfords. The minute I laced them up Shannon got to her feet and walked across the room. Thirty Dollars was a lot of money to spend in 1980 on a pair of shoes for a toddler who might not wear them for more than a few weeks, but I was an instant believer. Later, when I was working long hours, sometimes seven days a week on my feet, good shoes were vital to staying in the game. In 1983, I bought a pair of Acme boots on Lay-Away from Leddy Bros Rope and Saddle Company for Three Hundred Dollars. I walked a lot of miles behind the bar in those boots and rode more. They were re-soled twice in five years, re-heeled once. They have a place of honor in the living room beside my old saddle, but I wear them now and then, even though they no longer keep the water out. And, my granddaughter wears them.
Back to 1984. I was looking for shoes for my two little girls when I saw the shirt in Dillard’s and stopped to look at it. It was on the sale rack, marked down to Sixty Dollars. White cotton, loose fitting with one pocket, delicate embroidery on the collar and cuffs. So pretty. I walked away and we went shoe shopping. Passing it on the way out and I looked again, and we left. I didn’t find any shoes for the girls either, but the clerk told me about a sale coming up for the fall and we went back later. We found shoes that time, and on the way out, I saw the shirt still on the sale rack. It was marked down again to a more doable price and I bought it.
The girls and I didn’t go out much other than to a cafeteria they loved, or fishing, to the park, or to the horses. I never wore it behind the bar as it would have been ruined in one shift. But, over the years, the shirt was a staple of my wardrobe. I wore it dancing, to sing at weddings, and once, at the funeral for friend’s murdered little grandson. I have never been able to sing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” again.
The white shirt was my go to blouse for Church and picnics. When I was called upon to teach a class, go to a meeting, attend an awards ceremony for my girls, the white shirt was the one to wear with jeans or a skirt. Eventually, the cuffs frayed. I got smaller and had to take it up. Every once in a while it would disappear into the depths of my closet only to re-emerge, months or a year later, as though I got a new shirt! In the year 2001, while I was tucking it in, my finger went through the fabric. One of those tears that will not be repaired in a presentable manner. Oh, no! Well, when it’s tucked in, you can’t see it. So I wore it, anyway.
Then, the cuffs frayed more, separating at the edge-fold. The embroidery began to come loose. My pretty white shirt became the occasional lounging shirt, something on my shoulders for a cool evening on the porch. One day, it turned up in my closet again and I realized the fabric had thinned to the perfect weight for riding horseback in the summer; my shirt was back in full-time use for a few years. It went horse packing to the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming, and many places in Arizona like the Crook Trail, Woodchute north of Prescott, into the Bradshaw Mountains and East, all along the Mogollon Rim. Many of my family milestones, daily living, mountain adventures, evening campfires and lyrics to songs are woven into the white shirt. It is written into the book “Autumn’s On Its Way.”
The white shirt hangs in the closet where I can see it. Some day, I may wear it again. Maybe to my next performance. After all these years, and as worn and frayed as it is, it deserves a real special occasion.
So, when a Katy’s Cache visitor asks, “Why is that?”
I tell them it is the stories, fun, tears and laughter and memories, that are forever woven in and through, like threads of magic.
That is why.
© 4/30/2017 Nancy Elliott and Lil’ Red Horse Publishing