I don’t get nostalgic about many things. Certain smells, I suppose. The sound of a particular type of commercial airplane that I can’t identify by name steadily buzzing across the sky. Past homes I’ve lived in. Old songs on the radio. All with their own reasons attached like sails, sending me back, back, back.
But one of the things I get most nostalgic about, a thing that never fails to cause me to bite my lower lip to curb the swell of a lump in my throat (proven remedy), are the old t-shirts of my children. T-shirts that say, Pear Blossom Fun Run 2007 with the comical image of a bottom-heavy pear wobbling toward a finish line, and First Presbyterian Preschool ‘Lil Critters stamped with small handprints, and Laguna Beach Junior Lifeguards that actually still fits because it fell to Nate’s knees the day he got it. Shirts that are labeled with the sizes of our past: 2T and 4T and 6-8. Shirts long stained or ripped or too-squeezy that tell of a time, a place, a path we walked two summers ago, three school years ago, a veritable lifetime ago in the timeline of our family.
I save these t-shirts in a box in my closet, because one day, I’m going to commission my mom to create quilts of them as she did once for me. I don’t look at them much. But sometimes, one escapes. To the back of the closet. To the box of hand-me-downs. To the impossible-t0-reach floor behind the dryer. Or worst yet: to that wedge of space between the dresser drawer and the wall.
And I’ll find it there, hiding: Wildlife of the Grand Canyon (its glow-in-the-dark owl eyes staring back at me). Park City Utah Cub Club. AYSO Fighting Dragons. Great Wolf Lodge, a HOWLING Good Time. And dammit, I’ll feel myself tearing up. Because we were just there, weren’t we? We were just on that road trip, on that team, on that highway that took us to that preschool, to that vacation, to that weekly play space.
Those labels, faded and peeling? They were just us. How can it be that they’re already three sizes too small? How it is possible that the only place they’re still worn is on the beaming children four, five, six volumes back in the photo albums?
It can’t be true. But Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not San Francisco begs to differ.