I reach for a T-shirt, one of many folded on my closet shelf. And, without hesitation, I pull down the navy blue size “L” with the portrait of Marvin Gaye emblazoned across the chest.
My inherited Marvin Gaye tee. It is one of my favorites — a prized possession among my dozens of T-shirts collected over the years.
My tees are assorted in color. Some bear sports teams’ insignia. The majority line a shelf in my closet.
Others fill a drawer that contains my most aged collectibles: family reunion T-shirts that remind me of loved ones now passed, of summers spent inhaling together the breath and seasons of life, drifting on sweet memories.
Others are inscribed with titles or insignia, like my white “Washington Post” tee with blue lettering that reminds me of my time as a reporter there. My orange and blue “Flyin’ Illini,” tee is stamped with memories of the 1989 NCAA basketball championship that almost was, and my Champaign college days.
The “Chicago Bulls” — reminds me of once upon a time when we were champions. “Providence St. Mel Knights” — stirs reflections of high school.
A powder blue T-shirt adorned with my grandmother’s face is sealed with the date of the Hagler Family Reunion I hosted on Aug. 31, 2013. It rekindles memories of the rain that fell that summer day from the skies and also from my grandfather’s eyes as he inhaled the presence of his family, including my mother (his daughter Gwendolyn Marie Hagler Clincy). Memories of Grandpa tearfully reflecting on how far the Good Lord had brought us, even if my grandmother was, by then, no longer with us.
Grandpa is gone now. He passed away one cold winter’s day in March 2018.
They fade. But they endure, sometimes become frayed. But the special ones never lose their luster. That has been my discovery.
T-shirts. There is something about a declaration — a title, a name, an emblem, a portrait — publicly worn between the shoulders, near the heart. Something I find in the process of climbing into some of my mostly cotton tees, like donning one before climbing aboard my Harley. It fills my veins with a shot of “cool.”
Sometimes a T-shirt blankets me with alumni pride. Or it floods my soul with a million recollections all at once, reconnects me to something, or someone no longer possible to embrace, hug, kiss.
My Marvin Gaye tee speaks to me, sometimes causes my eyes to fill with tears. Beckons to me from my closet shelf for touch and full embrace. I have not always been able to answer. Too much pain.
I inherited it on Aug. 22, 2014, on a bittersweet morning nearly a year to the date of our family reunion. That was the day my mother left us after her battle with cancer and Alzheimer’s.
“Bitter” because the diseases stole my Mama whose hair and forehead I had stroked gently as a loving son to bring her comfort and solace. “Sweet” because her suffering was finally over.
After the undertaker had prepared her body, her clothes were left folded in the nursing home where she died. Among them: her Marvin Gaye tee with “GWEN” written on the tag.
I took it for mine — the T-shirt Mama had died in. But what I remember most is that it is the one she lived in, loved.
And it warms me with memories of Mama. Fills my soul with her laughing girlishly, dancing and snapping her fingers. It rekindles memories of Mother’s Days when she was alive to hear my praise.
So in Mama’s honor this Sunday, I will reach for our Marvin Gaye.
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