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Winter activities can be fun.  The frivolity can be endless — snowmen, skiing, ice skating, streaking, ummmm…. you know, snow and ice and exposed skin type of stuff.  I’m certain that I only touched the tip of the iceberg with my list.  Winter also lends itself to opportunities that Summer does not present, indoor activities that may or may not be so filled with frivolity.  I’m talking about something that I only do every twenty years or so..

It was time to clean out my closet and get rid of decades of tee shirts.

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That’s right.  This past weekend I went into the closet and came out…with a whole lot of old tee shirts.  I piled them in the middle of my living room hoping that they would get up and walk away on their own.

Not really.  They are shirts after all.  They don’t have legs.  I think I heard some of them trying to strike a deal with the pants.

I know what you are saying.  Wait, no, you’re asking.  I know what you are asking — how could someone throw away a perfectly good Angry Birds tee shirt?  That is a good question and I feel a bit guilty for separating the tee shirt from it’s matching red Angry Birds fleece pajama pants.  Sometimes one has to be cruel in order to be practical.

There was also the issue of personal safety involved in my decision to cull the tee shirt herd.  Most of my tees were stacked on a long wire shelf along the ceiling of my walk in closet.  I was buried under an avalanche of tee shirts the other morning, rescued by the ever faithful Nick the Sheltie.  Of course, it was his barking that set off the avalanche, so the dog had better have rescued me.

I had a lot of tee shirts.  I still do have a lot of tee shirts, even after getting rid of a lot of my collection.  Getting rid of many of those tee shirts was more difficult than I thought it would be.  Tee shirts are an item than hold a memory — an accomplishment, races or bike events or bike tours, vacations taken, little league baseball teams coached, softball or basketball teams that I played for, gifts from my kids that tell me what they think of me.DSC_0478

There is that Save Ferris tee shirt that my daughter thought was so cool, picked out one day from a bin at Target after we had watched Ferris Buehler’s Day Off for the umpteenth time.  Or the Perry the Platypus tee shirt that she brought back for me when she came back from Walt Disney World, a tribute to our favorite cartoon (Phineas and Ferb — CURSE YOU, PERRY THE PLATYPUS).  There is the NaNoWriMo winner tee and the “Let’s Eat Kids.  Let’s Eat, Kids.  Punctuation Saves Lives!” shirt that remind me that I like to mess around with words now and then.

Amor Ministries shirts are reminders of the three weeks that my wife and I took our kids to Tijuana, building small houses from scratch in the hot August sun.  I was never so proud of them for the hard work and compassion they showed on those trips.  They also got to see me try to work when I was violently ill on one of those trips, maybe the best opportunity I have had to be a good example to them.  I kept one of those Amor tee shirts, threw two away.  I need to keep one just because.

I think the trinket tee shirts that the blood donation centers give are cool.  Those are shirts I don’t wear too often because I feel like I am drawing too much attention to myself, announcing what a good person I must be for donating blood.  Truth is that I go for the free Little Debbie brownies and cold Coca Cola.

It’s hard to say how many tee shirts that I have from riding bicycle events.  When I went through the stacks of ride tee shirts, there were several as old as 1994.  Yeah, I have been riding for a while.  There was a time in my riding life when I would ride several events a month.  I had a lot of friends that rode those events with me, with a ton of stories that go with riding those events, especially the tours that we rode together.  There were at least 20 shirts from RAGBRAI (Des Moines Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa).  Since I have participated in RAGBRAI seven times, I should have a lot of shirts from that ride.  There were three shirts from the event that I am the most proud to have completed, a ride called The Assault on Mount Mitchell, one of the most grueling one day tours that I have done.  A lot of my tee shirts from rides are gone, worn out and thread bare.  I like to talk about riding and wearing a ride tee shirt is often a conversation starter.  There are also the bike safety clinic “rodeo” tee shirts that I have, another source of pride simply because I like that I have the privilege of promoting cycling in my community.

Even after throwing away a lot of ride tees, I have a lot left, judging by the stack of shirts I put back on the closet shelf.DSC_0480

I was a bit in awe at the number of shirts I had/have from coaching youth sports.  Having a son who loves sports will do that to you.  Between baseball (the sports logo tees are from those teams — and I was missing one shirt), basketball, softball (Alyssa) and soccer, I was a very busy man from the time Nate turned 4 until he was 13.  Wow, are there a lot of memories from each of those tees!  Our park district issues the same tee shirt with the city logo on it, in the team color.  I have a large number of those shirts in all kinds of colors.  Then there were the years that I served on the youth baseball association board, with tees from the tournaments that we sponsored.

I liked thinking about coaching my 13 year old daughter when she decided to try playing organized basketball.  There were two tee shirts from that time of my life.  One condition of her deciding to play on the park district team was that I would be one of the team coaches.  I had to quit a production that I had been cast in so that I could coach that team, one of the best decisions that I have ever made, even though the producer of that musical was so angry with me for dropping out that he told me that I would never be cast in a play or sketch or video ever again.  I had been one of the founders of the theater company, a lot of myself was invested in it, so it was a big deal.  An even bigger deal was witnessing my daughter invest herself in the sport of basketball, proud and happy that I was a part of it.  Our girls park district basketball program was designed to prepare our girls for the middle school basketball program.  The park district season finished right before tryouts for the school team.  Alyssa not only made the middle school basketball team, she was a starter on the school team.

There was the tee shirt that my church gave to me to wear when I baptized my son at church.  That one will never be thrown out.

One shirt that held a bittersweet memory for me was a shirt that was awarded for winning a basketball league tournament, a team that was undefeated.  We had to wear those shirts for the first game of the next season.  That basketball team was organized by the director of sales for the company I worked for, my boss’s boss.  Paul was one of the most genuine people I have met, a man who never treated me like he was his superior.  He recruited me to play on that team when I was in my basketball prime.  I don’t think I want to elaborate on that.. but I was very good at the time.  I remember clearly the night that Paul’s wife and children came to watch us play and how proud Paul was to introduce me to them.  I played on teams as a boy that played in the Illinois state championships, placing third at the state tournament one year, but playing on that club basketball team with Paul was as good or better experience than playing on those teams.  Every member on that team played well together, largely because of the guy who led that team.  Basketball developed a close bond between us.

I also gained a true friend in Paul those two seasons I played on that team.  He became someone I could talk to at work without fear of consequence, a supportive leader who brought me back to the company when I left for greener pastures.  Paul also talked to me about the spiritual side of life, about God, in a way that no one else has with me.  What made that part of our relationship unique was that Paul struggled with believing in God.  That struggle led to a conversation that I will remember with sadness for the rest of my life, the day where Paul asked to talk to me about what I believe about God and salvation and what needs to be done for salvation.  He had a sister who believes the same way I do, had shared the same with him — and Paul looked at me straight in the eye, with sadness, as he told me “Steve, I just can’t believe the same way that you do.”.  He couldn’t bring himself to be baptized, couldn’t quite say that he needed to do that, was not quite sure he really believed in God.

A few months later, on a cold January day, Paul parked his car next to a river, walked to the river and committed suicide by stabbing himself multiple times with a knife.  He was found dead in the river.   At his wake, I sobbed as I stood in front of his ash white face in the coffin.  His wife pulled me aside and told me what I had meant as a friend to her husband.. and that he had told me about the conversation I had with him in his office.

I couldn’t bring myself to attend his funeral the next day.  I could not bring myself to accept that good bye.  Looking at that tee shirt last weekend, I knew that it needed to go.  It was a way to say good bye.

Really, I did not think that something as simple as a tee shirt would bring back so many memories.  There were more, plenty more.  Most not as bittersweet as Paul’s story.  Most very happy, proud memories of some of my best days and moments.  They are my trophies, I suppose.

Now that the closet is done, it’s time to move on to an even more daunting task.  Yes, it’s time to clean out my underwear drawer.

That should be a brief task.

 

 

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