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COLUMNISTS

Bob's work shirts hold memories for the beholders

Susan Manzke
Susan holds some of the pillows made from Bob’s work shirts.

Memories, that’s what fills this column. The original was written in 1984, but it pretty much happened every year.

Bob's work shirts were always a thread shy of being in the rag bag. Being a welder made clothes an interesting problem for him. Most of the work shirts he wore were mainly holes, with a little bit of material in between to hold the holes together.

From time to time I gave the sewing machine a shot at patching his shirts. But the inevitable time came when I couldn’t patch them even for barn work.

"Bob, it's time you get new work clothes," I said.

"These'll do a while longer," he answered. "With the repairs I'm doing I'll only ruin new clothes. Maybe next week."

Next week came and passed without new work clothes.

"Dear, why not stop in today and pick out some clothes when you're in town for that tractor part?" I persisted.

"No time to stop today. Maybe next trip. The welder will only burn holes in the new ones."

The following trip didn't bring home the work clothes Bob needed. It wasn't until the eighth trip that Bob carried home a package that wasn't grease smeared or oil-stained.

"Here are those work shirts you've been bugging me to pick up. I hope they make you feel better."

"Me, feel better? I'm not the one who's going to wear them. You’re the one with air-conditioned sleeves. You might as well put on one and toss me the shirt you're wearing. I'm going to wash the car and need a rag."

Bob looked shocked. "I can't wear a new shirt out to the shop now, I'm welding. I'll save these for later."

Bob rarely wore a new shirt to work, even one bought for that purpose. He liked to break them in first. The only problem was that there is no place to break in a work shirt except on the job. But I solved the problem. I quit trying to play magician and patch his old shirts together. When they did find their way into the wash they never found their way back to his closet. He had to relent and wear a still new shirt when there were none of the others left.

"Don't you look nice today. Like a different man," I told him the morning he came all new to the breakfast table.

He didn't think I was cute. "This is going to be a waste. I have to weld the first thing today. I hate to burn holes in this right away."

"Well, just be careful."

His answered with a grunt.

That evening Bob came in all smiles. "I don't believe it. The shirt's in one piece. It's not burnt or ripped or anything."

"See what you can do when you're careful," I said and directed him to Rob who needed a little help with a model he was building.

Five minutes later, Bob was at my side again, rubbing frantically at something on his chest. "How do you get glue off? I knew I shouldn't have worn this shirt. See what you made me do."

A closeup on two of the work shirt pillows.

I'm still not sure if I was supposed to be guilty of making him buy the shirt or wear it, or if it was me who was responsible for the glue all over his chest. But I only pleaded guilty to the first two counts.

Work shirts were my husband’s clothing of choice. When I think of Bob, I imagine him wearing blue shirts, with snaps, not buttons.

In remembrance of Bob, a few of his work shirts are being turned into teddy bears by Unity Hospice. Also, my friend, Linda Biese, took eight blue shirts and made pillows. One went to each of our children and of course, I have one, too. The one I chose has a black paint mark across the front. Now that one is an extra special work shirt just for me.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165; sunnybook@aol.com; www.susanmanzke.net/blog.