My Amazing, Technicolor Dream Shirt

My blog last month reflected on some of the more somber aspects of my trip to SC in July for a family reunion. This time I want to touch on some lighter moments. I’ll get to the shirt toward the end.

The extended family gets larger every year. In my generation (which I’ll call Gen1), with my brother and cousins, there are 14 of us. We’re all still alive and none of us is, or has been, in jail. We do have the sorts of health problems you’d expect to find among 14 people in their 60s and early 70s. One of my older cousins had a heart attack two weeks after the reunion. My brother, who is 68, may be in the worst health of us all. I was shocked to see how old and decrepit he looked. Diabetes, heart problems, prostate cancer, a MERSA infection—they’ve taken a toll on him.

The reunion is held at the home of one of my cousins. She and her husband have a huge great room (pardon the redundancy) and a pool. Her three daughters help with preparations, and the rest of us bring food. The daughters are married and producing the next generation, as are the children of several other cousins, but we’re not as prolific as one might expect. My two grandparents produced five children, who produced us 14. Of those 14, five have no children, four have one child, three have two children, one has three, and I have four. So, a total of 17 children (Gen2) from the 14 of us. That’s not a rate that will produce rapid population growth.

Gen2 are now adults, with spouses and children. There are enough of them—and there have been a couple of divorces and remarriages—that it gets confusing for us Gen1 folks. I found myself engaging in a pleasant conversation about baseball with one of the Gen2 spouses. He had read my book, Perfect Game, Imperfect Lives, about Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. We talked about baseball and collecting baseball cards. His own collection went back no farther than the mid-1980s.

When I got home I decided to send him a few cards from my duplicates from the mid-50s. But I had to email a couple of people and make sure I knew who I had been talking to. Turned out I had the wrong person. Fortunately I had never addressed him by name. Once I got that straightened out, I sent him the cards, including a ’56 Topps Elston Howard. He sent me a nice note of thanks. His wife also emailed me and said he had been like a kid at Christmas when he got the cards.

And now for the shirt. One of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had occurred on my trip home. When I checked out of my hotel the clerk—a young African American man with dreadlocks—said “That’s a pretty shirt.” I’ve always liked the shirt I was wearing that day, but I was surprised by the comment. I thanked him and went on my way. Later in the morning I stopped at a rest area in NC. I opened the door to the building for an older woman, i. e., somebody my age, who was walking up the steps behind me. When she passed me, she said, “As I was walking up here I kept thinking what a pretty shirt you’re wearing.”

But, wait. It gets weirder. Later in the day I stopped for gas and a snack in KY. The clerk, a woman of about 40, said, “That’s a beautiful shirt.” That evening, in IN, I went to a Cracker Barrel for dinner. Being alone, I was seated at a small table, facing a 60-ish woman who was sitting at a similar “two-top.” In that situation I just want to avoid eye contact. When the woman got up to leave I realized she was stopping at my table. When I looked up, she said, “I just want to say what a pretty shirt that is.”

Folks, it is a pretty shirt, but it’s not so exceptional that it should elicit comments from such a diverse audience across four states. It’s a pale blue, pin-stripe, old man’s shirt from Penney’s. I tried taking a picture of it for this blog, but nothing seemed to quite do it justice.

The story has an epilogue. A few days after I got home my wife and I went to Applebee’s for dinner. I was wearing a different shirt, another one from my Penney’s collection. When the greeter held the door open for us, he told me, “That’s a pretty shirt.” My wife said she just about broke up on the spot. All we can figure is that I really know how to wear a shirt.

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