So Kelly, your blog host, asked for us to write about family matters for her site. I was thinking about this while doing the laundry and when I pulled this shirt out of the washer, I knew I had my topic.
This Banana Republic shirt belonged to my Dad. I remember when he got it. I was about 13 and we were visiting my Granny in Hadley, MA. He bought it at the nearby mall.
I was mortified.
It was an objectively hideous shirt. Big ugly banana leaves everywhere. And my Dad, who was always overweight, filled it out. He was the picture of the Ugly American tourist. Even in western Massachusetts.
Of course at thirteen, everything my parents did would embarrass me. Just existing in my presence was too much. I remember walking ten feet behind them on the streets of Toronto. We had just moved there, I didn't know a single person there. I probably looked more stupid and conspicuous for trailing behind them and trying to act like I wasn't with them. Didn't matter. I could not be tainted by their uncoolness. God forbid I be seen with them when he was wearing this monstrosity.
That ended up not mattering of course. I was uncool for a lot of reasons in ninth grade, and that had much more to do with being chubby, pimply, and into comic books and D&D than any distance I walked away from my parents.
I grew up, in many different ways. I got taller. My parents no longer embarrassed me. At least they had to try a lot harder than simply being near me. Or wearing an ugly shirt.
Years later, I was working at a financial services firm that shall remain nameless. (Hint: It rhymes with Borgan Banley). I was miserable. The project I had spent eighteen months working on had been cancelled. Since I was a recent hire, it was likely that I would be moved elsewhere or let go. It was not a job that was anywhere near what I had dreamed of doing. It was a jobs that I took because of the money, and I regretted it. Also, there was a dress code. Shirt, tie, slacks. I hadn't had a dress code on a job since I had one that required hairnets.
During this time, eBay was just starting to become a thing. (Yes, I know. Grandpa Vic has been around a while.) My wife was an early adopter, spending late nights in bidding wars for vintage clothes and dolls. One night, while looking at some of the stuff she'd gotten and making sure it was all shipped, I came across a shirt. I'm not quite sure how I found it. It was probably in the Also From This Seller section.
This was not just any shirt. It was a Reyn Spooner brand Hawaiian shirt, called Hula Highball. Blue and red and yellow, it had a pattern of tiki drinks and a neon bar sign with a man drinking at a barstool. And I really don't know why, but I bid on it. Maybe because I had to wear nothing but beige and grey and light blue shirts at work. Maybe because the colors cheered me up. But, I bid on it and won. I think it cost me six dollars.
And then I thought of my Dad and smiled. I remembered how much his shirt had appalled me and now here I was buying one that was more garish. Was he at all unhappy in his job? No, he loved what he did. He worked at a university and was highly regarded in his field. Maybe he just wanted to wear a little more color than he could have gotten away with at school.
It was the first shirt of many. I got plenty more on eBay and at thrift shops. Not long after that, I left the financial world and returned to my true love of theater. I took a pay cut and got back into my chosen field. Now, I too have a job. At a university. That I deeply love. I don't know if I'm highly regarded, but the students like me. And I can wear whatever I want, so now I'm the Hawaiian shit guy.
It seems that no matter how much I tried to avoid walking with my Dad, it couldn't be helped.
Years after that, my Dad got cancer. It was non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. If you have to get cancer, that's the one to get as it has a high survival rate. it was touch and go for a while, but my Dad is as stubborn as he is caring. He pulled through, but lost a lot of weight during his chemo. He was thinner than he'd been in years, and most of his clothes didn't fit him anymore. Mom knew that I now loved the Hawaiian shirts and sent me a bunch of them.
When the box arrived, the banana leaf one was on the top.
Five years later, Dad is still cancer free. And I have a new favorite shirt. I don't have any kids that I can embarrass yet, but when I do I know just what to wear.
Victor Catano is the author of Tail & Trouble, his first novel and the start of a new urban fantasy series featuring witches, adventure, and a magic bulldog. Visit him at VictorCatanoAuthor.weebly.com for updates on upcoming books.
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