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Let me read your shirt

One of summer’s subtle joys is the unwrapping— losing the woolen shell required to combat winter’s chill—to reveal more of who we truly are underneath.

It seems like yesterday we were all bundled up. Then, suddenly, here we are sporting light cotton, short sleeves, and a more carefree attitude.

Lately, I’ve developed an appreciation for how T-shirts help make connections between people. One popular category of T-shirt features college colors and logos.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were eating in a restaurant. A group of young men came in and one of them wore a shirt representing a mid-sized school in western Michigan. I don’t see too many like it here in Virginia, but I immediately recognized it as my son’s alma mater. I went over and greeted the young man. At first, he assumed I had misidentified his school. “It’s in Michigan,” he emphasized. I nodded. When I offered some details to convince him that I knew exactly where it was, his smile glowed. We became instant friends, if only for a moment or two.

Another time while traveling out of state, I encountered a young lady wearing a Longwood University T-shirt. “Hey, I know where that is!” I told her. The shirt opened a door that offered us a chance for a brief connection. The vast wide world seemed just a little friendlier.

Another category of T-shirts brings up memories of vacations. My Outer Banks T-shirt often draws comments from people who want to talk about their own experiences. They ask where I like to stay, which piers are my favorites, and where I like to eat. Sometimes they ask if I’ve been parasailing. I haven’t, but I always enjoy hearing about the adventures of those who are braver than I am.

I also enjoy it when people wear reminders of other places I’ve visited: An array of beaches up and down the East Coast. Kennedy Space Center. The St. Louis Zoo. Breckenridge, Colorado. Chicago. Mystic Seaport and The Science Museum of Virginia. Every time I see one of these, or dozens of others, it brings to mind good memories and creates an opportunity to share those with someone who will understand.

My husband’s preferred T-shirts fall into the humorous category. One he often wears says, “I never finish anyth…” It always draws comments. People typically respond in one of three ways. One group stops to ask what “anyth” is, as if it might be something delicious, but perhaps overly strong. Another group becomes puzzled because as they read the shirt, their minds fill in the missing letters. They question him about whether or not the statement is technically true. They try to convince him that he must have finished something at some point in his life. The third group, notices that the word “anything” is left unfinished. My favorite commenter pointed to my husband and laughed. “Hey! I like your T’…” he said, breaking off the word, leaving it incomplete.

I also enjoy some of the shirts that feature tongue-in-cheek sayings or clever puns. I recall one young man walking down High Street wearing a shirt that declared, “Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with catsup.”

Another person sported a picture of two stick figures. One of the figures was missing the line segment between the arms and legs. The second figure, holding a line in its outstretched arm, said, “I’ve got your back!”

Yet another category of T-shirts focuses on special occasions. My husband and I both have T-shirts that commemorate last year’s total solar eclipse. Finding someone else who made a similar trip to experience those few fleeting moments of daytime darkness affords an opportunity to share a mutual joy.

I’ve seen the same kind of connection spark between people who encounter others with T-shirts featuring band concerts, political events, and sports competitions. So, please forgive me if it looks like I’m staring at you. I’m just reading your T-shirt. If we can connect, even for just a brief moment, it will brighten my day and I hope yours, too.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.