I was folding my laundry the other evening and it occurred to me what a long relationship I have had with the easy to take for granted t-shirt. And I wear them even more often than I did when I was a kid.
Thirteen years ago I had a serious hand injury and one of the inexplicable after affects was that I became more susceptible to the cold. So at the first sign of chilly autumn days, I switch to long-sleeved shirts under which I wear one of my many t-shirts, most of which also serve as mementos from my travels.
As I write this I am wearing a black tee whose front features a lovely image of a guitar-playing bluesman. “Calgary International Blues Festival” is emblazoned above the picture, and on the back is a list of musicians who performed at the 2006 festival in Calgary. As soon as I see that list I am reminded that we did not see headliner John Mayall, who was the main attraction.
A short while after we had settled into our well-worn festival chairs the skies opened and a huge downpour soon turned into hail. Along with the rest of the crowd we swarmed toward the festival tents. Fifteen minutes later we headed back toward our chairs, our sandaled, sockless feet sloshing through several inches of hail. In no time at all, we were chilled to the bone and opted to head back to the car and call it an evening. The rest of the festival was excellent. It wasn’t until weeks after we got home that the dents on the roof of our Camry became apparent. Thank goodness for insurance.
Last Saturday, my t-shirt of choice was an old wine-coloured one that I got at Latah Creek Wine Cellars in Spokane. It pictures a stack of oak barrels in a cellar, with eight sets of eyes peering out from the dark in behind. “What happens in the cellar stays in the cellar,” says the printing.
Being enamored with t-shirts dates back to my elementary school years, when my paternal grandparents would always buy me a t-shirt when they went to Vancouver. It might have the name of a town en route, or the BC Lions’ logo. Several years later we entered the hippie era and I discovered the art of tie-dying. I would twist my plain white t-shirts into knots, wrap them with cords and run them through a wash cycle, the water coloured with RIT dye. Good times for a young teen!
At 18, I travelled through Europe with two high school friends and couldn’t believe the great price for souvenir shirts at the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam. I brought a bunch home for gifts, and kept three for myself, which I wore for years.
Now, later in life, I still get a charge out of pulling one of my tees from the closet and feeling memories stir. There’s one of two t-shirts on which I had Lucien Douville print a photo I took in Europe. “Wake up Italy”, says a piece of graffiti, along with a drawing of the see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil monkeys. I kept one and gave the other to our oldest son.
There’s one from Quidni, a now defunct winery that provided me with some great visits and excellent wine from Naramata. Two others feature Burrowing Owl winery logos.
Two different CBC shirts are in my collection. Another, with the name Eckersley printed on it, includes the RCMP logo, and was worn while our son Ryan was doing his training in Regina.
Calgary Folk Music Festival shirts still survive, some from as far back as 20 years ago. Other favourites are from the shop at the Metropolitan Opera and from our visit to watch Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Seattle Opera. “Much Ado About Nothung” and “Gotterdammitslong” still make me smile, although the Wagner-specific puns are lost on most people.
My hands-down favourite is dyed with Prince Edward Island soil, but a couple from New Orleans run a close second. My newest addition features a portrait of Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, purchased last fall at the South Pole Inn in the tiny town of Annascaul, Ireland. Crean once owned the inn, and as I pull it over my head I am taken back to asking for a pint of Crean Ale, the only time on my trip that I resisted ordering Guinness.
Now, as I start to feel my age and face the increasing challenge of remembering nouns, my t-shirt collection has become an unplanned little diary of travels and memories. For that reason alone, I am grateful.