While many spent their holidays baking and shopping and attending parties and visiting relatives in California, I was rearranging my sock drawer.
And that’s not a clever euphemism for something covert. I literally spent a few hours over a couple of days thinning out the socks, boxer shorts and T-shirts in my dresser. Not very exciting, but strangely satisfying.
It was part of our family’s annual purging, when we each sort through our closets and drawers and weed out things we don’t use — toys, games, stuffed animals, clothes and books. Some items get tossed or recycled, while most get packed up for donation.
It’s a classic first-world ritual — purging stuff that will likely be replaced with other stuff that will eventually be purged. Also, it’s a good exercise in gratitude for the things we have, the spaces to put them in and the means to acquire and care for them.
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I was feeling pretty good about packing a couple of bags full of clothes when I noticed that I still had an obscene amount of T-shirts. I swore I would only keep the ones that I was most likely to wear. But there were still three drawers full. How many shirts does one guy need, and how many are too many?
So, I counted them — long-sleeved, short-sleeved, solids, prints, and SPF-numbered swim shirts. (The less pasty skin I show in public, the better.) There were white undershirts (V-neck and crew neck) and a smattering of tees declaring loyalty to alma maters, political candidates and rock bands. And an obligatory handful of Kansas City pride tees and Royals shirts — and more Royals shirts.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but there were 87 of them. Yes, that’s a lot for any one person, but after getting knee deep into this project, I realized that these were much more than articles of clothing. They’re true relics — embedded not only with sweat and stains but also with tales of victories and losses, adventures and milestones, friendships and rivalries.
Opening those drawers was like embarking on an archaeological dig. As I uncovered each layer, the story of my life began to emerge from the cotton fibers and faded dyes.
The history of my music career was laid out in a tapestry of Stinky Feet promotionals and festival T-shirts including years of Irish fests, Jiggle Jams and Spinach Fests.
Colorful remnants of journeys to exotic destinations jumped to life — the Badlands, New Mexico, Hawaii and New York. I found one that featured a map of the subway system in St. Petersburg, Russia, that I acquired from an epic trip with a buddy in 1997.
But the most interesting artifact I unearthed was a faded pink tank top — a throwback from my days as a journalist and a memento from one of the first freelance travel pieces I ever wrote. It was gifted to me while I was “covering” the Third Annual Nude Juggle Fest in Kissimmee, Fla. (Yes, it was a particularly challenging assignment, but somebody had to expose the bare facts.) The shirt is dated 1990 and features the silhouettes of a man and a woman with the tag line “Nude Juggling Is Taking Off.”
When I held it up for my family to see, my wife rolled her eyes. Our girls furrowed their brows and scrunched up their noses.
“OK, that’s weird,” said one.
“That’s really disturbing,” said the other. “But I have a feeling that’s not the most unusual experience you’ve ever had.”
She’s right. But since they don’t make T-shirts for all of life’s unusual experiences, I’ll hang on to the ones I’ve got.
And I’ll look forward to digging back into my drawers this time next year to see what new stories have been chronicled in my historical garment collection.
To reach Jim Cosgrove, aka children’s entertainer Mr. Stinky Feet, send email to email@example.com.