Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, August 6, 2016

T-Shirts and Old Girlfriends



A few days ago I took myself out to lunch and while I was waiting for my plate of cholesterol to be served a couple about my age walked in. The woman was wearing a t-shirt that read, “Friendship League” and the guy was wearing one with the word 'Superman' plastered across his chest. And that was all it took to transport me back to the '80s when Don had one of those silly superman t-shirts only he didn’t wear his like this man did, for all the world to see. Don loved to wear his superman shirt underneath a dress shirt, suit jacket and a tie. It put him in a silly mood, like he had a secret and was waiting for an opportunity to expose that t-shirt at a party, wedding reception or similar dress-up event. I don’t remember him doing it more than twice---once when a hostess couldn't open a bottle of wine---but he wore that shirt under his dress clothing for years, until it got too small and it went into a box labeled ‘Memory Shirts.’ Most of the t-shirts in that box got donated after his stroke and our downsizing to move but some of them ended up in a quilt that I had made. That was probably the best gift I ever gave my husband and he used it almost every day until he died. 

Did you know that t-shirts evolved from the one-piece union suits (underwear also known as long-johns) that men wore in the 19th century? They’d cut the bottoms off and wear the tops to do farm chores in the summer months and the cut-off union suits also became popular with miners and stevedores. By the 1920s the word t-shirt was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but it wasn’t until Marlon Brando, in the 1950s, wore a t-shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire that t-shirts came into their own as a stand-alone fashion garment. Silk screening on t-shirts for self-expression, souvenirs and advertising was popularized in 1960s, but in between the end of WWII and the '60s they could be found in veteran groups. 

In April of 1970 when I met my husband, silk-screened t-shirts were not universally accepted as proper attire in Don’s family, a fact that I didn’t know when I wore one the first time I met his family. It was navy blue and had two large white footprints over my chest--far from a hippie protest t-shirt but close enough, I guess. It was probably the single most notable thing I did to cause one of his three brothers to spend the next four decades looking down his nose at me. I heard stories a few years later about how that t-shirt became the topic of the family gossip mill, with Don’s dad taking my side and declaring me to be "the perfect girl for Don.” Don, at 29, was the unmarried baby of the family and a mystery as to why he let two perfectly nice girls slip through his fingers when either one would have made a wonderful wife and mother. The t-shirt hating brother deemed him to be immature and lacking an anchor. Those two never did understand what made the other one tick.

One of the girls Don dated before me was his high school sweetheart and I have the photos to prove it. She was a red-head who still lives near-by and after graduation she broke up with him because he didn’t produce an engagement ring in a timely manner. She was engaged to someone else a few months later. We used to see her and her husband at class reunions or house parties back in the day and they came to our ‘Thank God, I’m Alive’ party that I threw to celebrate Don’s stroke recovery at the five year benchmark. I don’t even know how that came about; they weren't invited. I was okay being around her---it was high school after all---but her husband always acted uneasy being around the "high school sweethearts." Don’s second serious girlfriend gave up on getting a ring out of him after five year. She joined the WAC, ended up marrying an Army engineer and lived happily ever after in Fiji. I was always glad I never met her. I suspect she was too classy to ever wear a tacky t-shirt with big feet on the front.

Over the years both my husband and I had many favorite t-shirts. Some from places we’d been on vacation like the Gene Autry Museum and Steamboat Colorado, others made statements like “Kiss Me I’m Irish”---Don was and he wore that shirt once a year until it got too tight. Other favorites were for local causes like “Save City Hall!” and a covert protest tee against a local soap manufacturer that depicted a bar of soap on a rope. A giant bar of "soap" on a robe was an entry in a local raft race and that t-shirt was a gift from the artist who made the raft. We took part in that the race for four-five years. We had an old, ten-man military surplus rubber survival raft with a roof that we made into a turtle one year, a whale another. I see that soap t-shirt in the quilt and all those memories come back.

I doubt logo and silk-screen t-shirts will ever fall out of fashion. Though I don’t wear them anymore since my husband died. I gave them up in an attempt to update my wardrobe, not look like a caregiver anymore or an aged-out hippie. But if I ever see a shirt that says, “Friendship League” I  might be tempted to buy it. While I was at lunch I had a terrible time resisting going up to the woman wearing that t-shirt and asking her, “What the heck is a friendship league and how can I join?” I think that's the reason why my husband loved t-shirts---they're great conversation starters. Even after he lost his speech with the stroke, he'd roll his wheelchair up to someone wearing an interesting logo and point to it. Ohmygod, I could write a whole blog entry about some of the situations he got himself into doing that. And I probably did in my caregiver blog. ©


The photo at the top was taken in 1959 of Don with his high school sweetheart. The photo below is of the t-shirt quilt I had made for Don.There are 19 shirts and five patches in the quilt. It's not a pretty quilt but it was the perfect size for lounging in his La-Z-Boy and a prefect memory trigger.

24 comments:

  1. I have heard of quilts made for the widow out of her hubs shirts, but I think it is so WONDERFUL you had one made for Don out of his T-shirts!!! that now is your widow memory quilt--much more significance. You should have asked her what the t-shirt meant. I talk to total strangers all the time--it can be fun.

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    1. I'm so glad I had it made for him before he died rather than after. Although I'd still encourage widows to make those memory quilts. It makes it so much easier to donate other clothing which is often so difficult.

      I tried to google 'friendship league' and all I came up with was basketball related stuff. Big disappointment. LOL

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  2. I love the story behind this quilt. I love the one you made for Don. I never did make a T-shirt quilt when they were popular. I did make a sweatshirt one though. Very cozy. It's funny, the things we forget and the memories that come flooding back just seeing a picture or small piece of memorabilia. I hope I never lose those memories. I'm not too concerned about forgetting if I ate or where I put the keys. That's not important. I still have the T-shirt we bought at the concert we went to on our honeymoon. When I drag it out, I am transported.
    Super post, Jean!

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    1. T-shirt quilts are still a popular gift for grandmothers to give their graduating seniors, but families have to think ahead to save the shirts. Smaller pillow projects out of t-shirts are fun too. After Don died, I had one made for a fund raiser auction to benefit wheelchair hunters group. They got him out into the woods for several years so I took his tees from those events to the quilter.

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  3. Jean :

    you are so resourceful & artistic. That t-shirt quilt is such a thoughtful & beautiful idea, I m feeling bad first time for being more left dominated brain. I feel like we should have collected more message oriented t-shirts in our travel than just state name t-shirts.

    Asha

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    1. Everyone had a favorite collectible when they travel. One of my nieces collects glasses with state names on them and I've collected rocks from places I've been. It's the memories we attach that's important. I do like message oriented t-shirts though. If you keep them long enough they're like mini history lessons.

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  4. I'm glad you got it made BEFORE he left! I bet he LOVED being snuggled under that. Great memories. I collect Christmas ornaments when I travel. Of course, Mr. Ralph gave away the box of things I wanted to keep ... so now I have just memories. We each gave Kate one for Christmas and now they give their boys an ornament each year. The best part is shopping for them all year long!

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    1. I kept the shirts thinking I would make a quilt myself and then one day I decided if I didn't do it soon, he would be gone. So the decision have the quilt done professionally was very easy.

      What a shame your ornaments are gone. I'll bet Kate's are really something to see, knowing all the cool places you've traveled.

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  5. I've never personally worn those kind of t-shirts but my daughter wears them. She's a nurse in a children's hospital and they're constantly producing t-shirts for special events. She buys one every time they come out with a new one.

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    1. She supports good causes, I'm sure, with her purchases.

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  6. +1 to above comments - a very thoughtful gift for your husband, particularly in his situation where both touch and sight would have triggered good memories. ~ Libby

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  7. You wore WHAT the first time you met Don's family??? Hah! Dead giveaway you'd be the perfect match for the zany baby brother. You must have been like oxygen for Don, after those 'perfectly nice' girls.

    BTW... Do you still have your 1970 foot fetish navy tee shirt?

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    1. In my defense I didn't know I was going to meet them that day. It was a spur of the moment drop in...or so I thought at the time. Not that it probably would have matter in my entire. LOL That t-shirt is long gone but I remember it fondly because it was my very first silk-screened tee.

      I don't know about Don's WAC girlfriend but his first one was/is a fun person to be around. LOL I just think they were both typical of girls in that generation who wanted to get married right out of school---one high school, the other college.

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  8. That quilt is pretty awesome. I bet it was comfy, too. Great idea.

    We still have "discussions" about me tossing out his "VOTE" shirt from the seventies. Ha! It was raggedy, but that didn't seem to matter.
    I didn't know that long-johns were the forerunners of t-shirts. Interesting.

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    1. The shop that made the quilt outlines some of the shapes---the bucking horse, the oil well and soap on a rope---so the back is interesting, too.

      History is so interesting, especially when we've lived through evolution and can look back and "Oh, yeah, that how it effected my life."

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  9. I love this post! Great quilt! You're so creative. (Jealous.) My t-shirts were of the rock band variety. Have a bunch in a box that I think I'll wear again someday when I am skinny and in my 20's again. LOL Now I have some that actually fit that I wear to Yoga class -- with images of Ganesha and Om symbols (and I have a pair of Obama yoga pants from the 2012 election.) T-shirts are a great way to reveal ourselves without saying a word. At the church I no longer attend, a few Sundays ago they had a T-shirt message Sunday inviting everyone to wear a t-shirt that reflected something about themselves. That being a group of social and environmental activists, I'm sure many important messages were imparted on the front of their shirts.

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    1. I love that 'wear a t-shirt message day'! I can think of a lot of places where that would be fun to do. And your box of t-shirts? If you figure out how to be 20 again, please call me.

      Your Obama yoga pants reminds me of something. If you were to come for coffee you'd have trouble figuring out what cup you'd want for yourself. I have political cups going back to when Clinton was in the White House. I just ordered a new one for Clinton and Kaine. They were my husband's collection and when I was about to sell them on eBay I decide, "why not use them and donate the run of the mill cups."

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  10. Hi Jean. This is Paul from Cruisin Paul. I'm sorry I'm late. I keep watching for your blog and I finally noticed you wrote. What a wonderful post my friend. Your Don sounded like a fantastic guy. I would have liked the guy. " the perfect girl ", sounds like you. His father new. You know that's exactly what happened with my wife. When I introduced my wife to my dad, the two of them hit it on right away. My dad said to me once, " You got a good one, don't lose here ". I listened to my dad and my wife and I just had our 42 anniversary.

    It's good to see that you are blogging and once again, what a beautiful post that you wrote. See ya Jean.


    Cruisin Paul

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    1. You and Don would have liked each other, I'm sure.

      I think parents do know when their kids make a good match and they know it before the kids often do. My mom adored Don, too.

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  11. I'm late too!
    I have a superman t-shirt too but I only use it as a pajama top...I wouldn't wear it out of doors! I bought it because I had a memory of seeing a picture of me in a superman t-shirt when I was 3-4 years old but I haven't seen that picture in a long time.
    I have a bag of t-shirts waiting to be put into a quilt...they are my t-shirts from my running and triathlon days! Your quilt is lovely.
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. I'm impressed. I haven't run or biked anywhere since I was a teenager let alone in completion. The lady who made my quilt makes a lot of sports themed quilts. You should check out her website for ideas and photos: https://www.toocooltshirtquilts.com/

      I wish I had kept more t-shirts to sleep in. I'm wearing one of my husband's right now but it needs to go in a rag bag soon.

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  12. A t-shirt quilt is a great idea! I have a collection of feminist t-shirts from the 1970s that I never wear anymore, but could never bear to part with. Maybe I should consider turning them into a quilt. -Jean

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    1. I would do that in a heartbeat! I have a few feminist t-shirts as well but but all I could make is a couple of two-side pillows. If you make a quiit yourself, be sure to look at some directions. The t-shirt fabric has to have a backer on them to keep them from stretching before the blocks can be sewn together.

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