Collecting National Park T-Shirts: The Passion and the Pain
“Ernie, you are my best friend in this world, and I will gladly give you the shirt off my back – unless, of course, it happens to be a national park tee.”
When I enter a national park visitor center, my feet automatically take me to the gift shop or bookstore. That’s where the national park T-shirts are. I simply cannot resist buying national park tees. I wear them as often as I can, too. It’s an addiction. There, I’ve admitted it. I’m feeling better already.
National park T-shirts aren’t like those other park souvenirs gathering dust on the shelf or stowed away in some forgotten shoebox. You wear them, and that makes all the difference. When you put on a national park tee, it doesn’t just trigger fond memories. It helps you relate to the world. Wear one on the trail, in the mall, or at the cookout and it tells others where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and what sort of person you are. Total strangers become new friends as they tell you their “I’ve been there too” stories.
I have a great big dresser drawer chock-full of neatly folded national park tees. This is my working inventory. There are more national park tees in my closet, at least one or two in the trunk of my car, and some others in the barracks bag I tote along on hunting trips. Out in the garage is a rag bag holding the remains of tees too ratty to wear.
Don’t look for national park tees in my laundry. Washing fades them, so I avoid that as much as possible. I’ve learned that a tee can be worn for at least three days before it ripens. (Since I sometimes lose the count, you might want to stand upwind from me like my friends and relatives do.) A tee that isn’t washed too often should last for years and years.
This brings me to the issue at hand. Summer is over here in the South Carolina, and so is the T-shirt season. We’ve had our first frost, and as winter draws near I can no longer ignore the fact that it’s time to clean out my T-shirt drawer. That space is needed for the lightweight sweaters and sweatshirts one must wear during the Palmetto state’s sissy winter. The tees will have to be moved to storage and rested until next April.
Alas, not all of my tees will get a well deserved rest. Some will have to be culled. Just as the clock ticks down for thee and me from the day we are born, a tee gets closer to the rag bag every day from the time it is made. Even tees that haven’t been foolishly washed too often will eventually fade from exposure to sunlight and the elements. Even venerable tees that have provided many years of faithful service, never complaining and never fading, eventually become unserviceable. Mine, for example, tend to rot out in the armpits.
A tidal wave of indecision has been eating at my innards. Which tees should I kill this year? Some of my old friends are looking pretty bedraggled. I suspect that several already know they will not be there next April to greet the warming sun and have already said their goodbyes.
Postscript: I’ve considered collecting national park sweatshirts too, but have you seen what they’re charging for those darn things? I’m a thrifty guy (not “cheap,” as my wife insists), so I’ll stick with the tees until I win the lottery.