Sunday, May 1, 2016

AN OLD BLUE SHIRT

Some people develop a fondness for shoes and wear them past everlastingness; others become attached to coats, dresses, and various pieces of clothing that end up in five percent of the material in landfills. I confess to a fondness for old blouses, sweaters, and shirts that can be worn with blue jeans and lounging pants, and my favorite among the latter is an old blue Liz Claiborne shirt that was designed for jeans wear. I am not only inured to the shirt, I can’t wear it without thinking of the tumultuous time in which I acquired it. Unfortunately, the shirt has reached the frayed, underarm-holes condition that has made it suitable only for bedtime wear. Its demise is near…

In late August, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and at that time I was director of Solomon House, an outreach mission in New Iberia, Louisiana. Many who could not be housed in the Super Dome in New Orleans fled to New Iberia for temporary housing, food, water… for their very survival. Two days after the exodus, Solomon House began receiving clothing from everywhere in the United States – truckloads of used and new clothing from the Eastern coast, the West coast, Midwest, and from all southern states. We stacked, sorted, and distributed clothing, food, diapers, and medical supplies in the six rooms and a back porch of Solomon House, a gray frame house built in the early part of the 20th century that we used for outreach work. Our hurricane recovery work lasted for at least four months following the most devastating hurricane to hit Louisiana, and I was on duty from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. during that time.

One day as I sorted through the clothing, this almost-new Liz Claiborne shirt appeared in one of the numerous boxes we were unpacking. It was made of soft blue cotton, and I coveted it at first sight, but I consigned it to a table of shirts and offered it to every woman who came in looking for shirts or blouses. “Too hot for that shirt,” most of them said. “Not dressy enough for my liking,” several said, and none of them seemed to like the soft blue color. The shirt lay on the table for at least two months before I decided that it belonged to me. After all, I had been working 12-hour days, no one wanted the shirt, and it had the look of “wanting attachment” to me. I took it home and tried it on. Too large, but comfortable, I surmised. After I took the article home and began wearing it, I thought many times about joining the people who began to model the clothing they had found on our tables, but felt a twinge of guilt that I had taken it home, rather than trusting that someone would finally make it their own. So I wore it in the privacy of my home. Instead, I wrote a poem about someone else modeling their Solomon House clothing entitled “Rising Water,” which appeared in my book of poetry by that same name, and a few verses of which appear below:

“…the awful body of the humiliated

on our doorstep, to whom we said
and he will transform

the body of your humiliation,
those victims of inundation

driven not by realism
but by visions of a redeemed future,

the miracle of faith in a God
who would help them survive.

We clothed a young evacuee from New Orleans
and he returned in his used outfit,

parachute pants, a striped polo shirt,
mimed a fashion model for us,

called his outfit
“The New Solomon House Line,”

sashayed through the outreach center
consoling us with his humor,

in the midst of agony showed us
he could see God…”

The young man was a bright light in the flooded world, and perhaps I’ve persisted in wearing the worn shirt just to remind me of the resilience of humans and the place of humor in redeeming an impossible situation. However, eleven years later I am giving up my blue shirt. According to an article in the September/October, 2005 issue of Green American, I don’t have to consign this favored piece of clothing to the dump, my old friend “too worn to wear” can be salvaged for such projects as “ugly quilts,” bedding for animal cages, textile recycling centers, or just for rags to use as a substitute for paper towels.

I will miss the comfortable shirt, but it’s better that I give it up for use in another home. However, I’m already looking for a replacement — an article of clothing that will carry the spirit of resilience and humor of the first one delivered to me, albeit illegally, on the heels of a vicious hurricane.







Post a Comment