Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Earning My Stripes

by alan handwerger (editor), Providence, R.I., July 15, 2009

here's what happened the last time my wife through out one of my favorite articles of clothing.

Earning My Stripes

“You really should get dressed,” she suggested, she being my wife, Lorrie, who had evidently failed to note that I already was dressed.  “I don’t want to miss the silent auction.”

“I am dressed,” I pointed out.

“You can’t go like that.”

“Fine,” I said, and headed sullenly for my closet.  Off with the shorts; off with the perfectly clean tee shirt.  Let’s see, then.   Pants:  Khaki … or Khaki?  Not the 32s; not the 34s.  There – the 36s… with the elastic waist.  O.K.  Got the pants.


Now for a shirt.  Hmm.  Slim pickings.  Nine flannel shirts in various plaids.  (It was eighty-eight degrees when I passed the bank on the way home.)  Three blue oxford shirts that Lorrie bought for me on sale, which I refuse to wear because they’re made of something horrible… The incredibly comfortable white cotton shirt with green stripes that I bought in England fifteen years ago, and that I can’t bring myself to part with despite the permanent yellow stain on its front.

There is a history that goes with this shirt, a history that was about to get much longer.  

It has everything to do with the yellow stain; a stain got while eating what was arguably the best chicken curry ever, on the terrace of a small Indian restaurant in Devon.  It is a stain that many would consider unsightly; but that I see as my yellow badge of curry, an emblem symbolic of the many battles I have waged to keep my stain-averse wife from discarding this – my very favorite article of clothing

You know, every time I see that shirt it carries me back; back to Devon: to one lane roads where sheep have the right of way; to the serpentine cliff walk along the estuary; to the tidal river, where colorful small craft rest on their sides in the mud flats at low tide.  God, I miss Devon.  What I wouldn’t do to go back.

What I wouldn’t do to go back?  I reached for the striped shirt.

Was I of sound mind and body when I put it on?  Yes.  Was I fully aware that in so doing I was violating a long-standing pact that I had made with my wife whereby she agreed not to throw the shirt out when I wasn’t looking provided that I agreed not to wear it to things like fundraisers?   I was.


“You’re not wearing that shirt, are you?”

Pretty obvious if you ask me.

 “I don’t have anything else.”

“What about the blue oxfords?”

Not this again.  “They don’t breathe.”

“Fine.  Wear the shirt.  But you better keep your eyes on it from now on; ‘cause the next time I find it alone…” she paused for emphasis “… it’s gone.”  She had tumbled into my trap.

“Then I’d just have to go get myself a new one.”


Lorrie was as good as her word; better in fact, as she threw out not only the shirt, but also my worstered wool three-piece suit with the moth hole in the crotch of the trousers.

But let the record show that I was also as good as mine, which explains what I’m doing here, at the mouth of the River Dart, making my way up the steep hill from the ferry dock to the village of Salcombe, where I distinctly remember the location of the small men’s shop where I bought that shirt.  Please let it be there…

Thank you, Lord.  I recognized the place immediately.  And I guess my shirt was a classic, because there it sat, in an impressive array of new colors, right in the shop window.  

By the time I left the premises of Messieurs Burton and Hawke, High Street, Salcombe, striped cotton shirts were available in S, M, and XL only; and I was set for rest of my fundraiser life.  Pausing only long enough to down a plate of cockles steamed with lemon grass, I ferried back across to my hotel and called home to explain the note I’d left on the coffee pot.

“You flew 3,000 miles to buy a shirt; …”

“Seventeen shirts,” I corrected her. 

Sounds of silence through a transatlantic telephone line.

“And I’m having a suit made.”

Still nothing.

“With two pair of trousers.”


Now why, you may ask, would I go to England without telling my wife or inviting her to come along?  Well, for one thing, she threw out my favorite shirt.  But more to the point, had I included her in my thought process from the outset, an argument would doubtless have ensued that would have led somewhere; but almost certainly not to Devon.

But as I sit here gazing out at the sailboats bobbing by on the shimmering turquoise sea, I find myself feeling a bit guilty.  What I’m going to do is call her back and convince her to come and join me.  It shouldn’t be that hard a sell.  Re-dial.

“Would you please come to England?”


Better than CLICK.

“Nigel says my suit will take at least a week”


“My tailor.”

Laughter.  Once you get her laughing, you’re home free.

“What’s so funny?”

“Oh nothing.  Just that yesterday you didn’t have a decent shirt to your name, and now you have your very own tailor.”

I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that there was no Nigel, no suit, no two pair of pants.  I just wanted her to come to England.

“So would you come, please?  The sea is this indescribable shade of blue, and there’s a restaurant in Salcombe that serves prawns the size of lobsters.”

“Pause… She took the bait.  “I’ll come.”

“There’s a flight that gets you into Gatwick tomorrow at 8:15.  I’ll pick you up”

Which left me only a few hours to get back into town and find a tailor named Nigel who could make me a suit.

I found three.


We stayed on in Salcombe until neither of us could stand the sight of prawns.  And when we left I was the proud owner of three handsome Nigels’ originals, which even now stand at attention in my half of the closet, right beside those seventeen shirts that truly do warm the cockles of my heart.

About the Writer

alan handwerger is an editor for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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