Where will your T-shirts be 50 years from now? Fifteen years ago, when I was on a church mission trip on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Kyle, S.D., the priest at the church there opened the door to the school gym. I expected to see basketball hoops and bleachers, but the place was littered with boxes and boxes and more boxes of old T-shirts. It was so crammed with old T-shirts that they couldn’t use the gym.
“People give us old clothes,” the priest said. “They think they’re being charitable, but you can see what happens to them.” Shaking his head, he locked the door. He said those shirts eventually would be sent off to a Third World country.
My cousin’s late husband entered dozens of marathons and triathlons. He got a T-shirt at each one. He accumulated such a glut of T-shirts that he’d set out boxes of them at garage sales and post a big sign saying “Free.” People walked right by.
I find it curious that this nation’s glut of T-shirts is such big business.
Every benefit walk, run, bike ride, dog walk, tree climb, porcupine chase and cowpie scramble includes a T-shirt. Nonprofits have T-shirts. Churches have T-shirts. Businesses have T-shirts. Schools have T-shirts. University groups have T-shirts. Camps have T-shirts. Hospitals have T-shirts. Veterans groups have T-shirts. Corporate officials wear tailored polos bearing their company name.
Why, then, is the perfect T-shirt so hard to find?
Browsing T-shirt racks is as entertaining as perusing the wares at Tiede’s in Overton, but I’m picky. As a relative newcomer to Nebraska, I’ve scanned shirts from Carhenge to The Archway to the Pony Express Station in Gothenburg to Fort Kearny to Lewis and Clark State Park and beyond, but I have yet to buy a T-shirt. Too often, I sense that T-shirts are considered throwaways.
For 44 years, I’ve gone to the Indy 500. Every year, I pop into one of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gift shops to see what’s new. And every year, there are new T-shirts because every year, the 500 creates a new logo stamped with the year.
It’s great marketing, but those new T-shirts are concocted from fabric as flimsy as dryer lint. Often, names of all 33 drivers in that year’s race are listed down the back — a ploy, no doubt, to buy a shirt every year, but I do not buy. I want a generic shirt that will last for years, not a flash-in-the-pan gimmick that will end up in boxes up on the Pine Ridge.
My favorite T-shirts are hardy veterans I’ve picked up on vacations. They’re sturdier than the Grand Canyon. They represent exuberant adventures. They’re not splashed with huge faces of wolves or grizzlies; they are classics that have survived tent-camping, backpacking, kayaking, sweaty hikes, rainstorms, and washers and dryers and still are going strong.
My favorites include the evergreen-hued Colorado shirt I got in 1992, or the happy turquoise shirt I found in Alaska in 2000, or the shirt the color of goldenrod that says “Bed and Breakfast” and shows a bedroll and a campfire. Another favorite, purchased after a stellar weekend of whitewater rafting in Moab, Utah, says that when God determines our life span, He does not count days spent biking, hiking and rafting.
Then there’s the shirt I got at the Tsakurshovi arts and crafts shop that my cousin Joe and his Hopi wife Janice own on Arizona’s Hopi Indian Reservation. It says, “Don’t Worry. Be Hopi.” They created that shirt after Bobby McFerrin’s Grammy-winning hit, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” came out in 1988.
On their shop bulletin board, Joe and Janice post photos of people wearing that shirt all over the world, from the Taj Mahal to the Grand Canyon to the Eiffel Tower to Buckingham Palace to the Great Wall of China. It’s about time I took a selfie of that shirt in Kearney so Nebraska can take its place on their wall.