This is the story of a shirt.
Last weekend, I drove to Nashville to celebrate the graduation of one of my childhood best friends. We say that we became friends in the fourth grade over a Language Arts assignment that resulted in a “commercial” for silver shoes. I have no memory whatsoever of the context for this assignment, what the goals of the assignment were, nor if this was really our first act of friendship. Regardless, fourth grade is about when it all started.
This is the T-shirt I selected for my drive to Nashville.
When I got out of the car to give my friend a hug, the very first thing she said to me was, “I love that you’re wearing that T-shirt!”
Okay, so maybe she actually said, “I can’t believe you still have that T-shirt!”
What she meant was, “I can’t believe you still wear that T-shirt.”
You see, I like to wear this shirt. It’s fun, summery, and loud. The plasticky neon emblem in all its glittery glory is holding up remarkably well. I have, after all, had the T-shirt for at least fifteen years. When I glance back through photo albums and scrapbooks from high school, I am often wearing this T-shirt.
I’d say it’s embarrassing, but it’s really not. Not to me.
I love these shirts, which are soft and smooth and wearing thin.
And while my friends may tease me about still wearing the same clothing I bought in high school (it wasn’t that long ago, people!), I think I’ll probably keep wearing them.
Here’s why: over the last fifteen years, they’ve turned into community builders for me.
No other items in my wardrobe, except perhaps my Hershey’s sweatshirt, get as many comments from perfect strangers as these shirts.
I should have anticipated this, since one of the first times I wore the St. Augustine shirt was to a concert, and after the concert, I was chatting with one of the local radio DJs. He asked me about going to St. Augustine. I’d never been, I told him, I just wear the shirt. Turns out he’d just gotten back from St. Augustine for his honeymoon.
I’m not making this up.
I have never been to St. Augustine, Florida, or to Virginia Beach, Virginia, but everyone who has ever been there manages to cross my path when I wear those shirts. (Furthermore, I have no idea what “hot tub stuffing is” though the back of the shirt suggests it was some sort of fund-raiser for the Ronald McDonald House, and I don’t drink the kind of rum being advertised on the “richer is better” shirt, or any kind of rum, quite frankly.)
But flight attendants, grocery store cashiers, fellow road-trippers in rest area bathrooms, college students, concert-goers–they’re all wanting to know if I’ve ever been to St. Augustine. Or Virginia Beach. Or Wheeling. Or wherever.
But especially St. Augustine. People who go there must really like it.
So I find myself mentally preparing for these encounters when I slip the T-shirt over my head in the morning. I hear myself saying, “Oh, it’s just an old shirt from high school.” And then they’ll ask a follow-up question, and I’ll say, “And when I bought it, it was already an old shirt.” And sometimes they’ll ask even more, and then I’ll say, “My brother and I used to shop at this vintage clothing store in Harrisburg called The Fairey Godmother.”
And that place is what this post is really about.