We Don’t Buy School Shirts in This Family–Story # 2

PressRelease-Wegner (2)

Click to view the press release

William Wordsworth writes that “The world is too much with us; late and soon,/ Getting and spending, we lay waste to our powers;/ Little we see in Nature that is ours;/ We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!” Wordsworth’s sonnet attacks what he saw as a growing materialism, and he’s imploring his audience to get back to nature. Like any great 19th century Romantic poet, Wordsworth saw an impending doom as humanity increasingly commodified nature and relationships.

Admittedly, though, I find the Romantic poets a bit tedious. Certainly, their criticisms of the growing industrial complex of the 19th century were valid, but their solutions were too often unrealistic and naive. It’s all good and well, I want to say to Wordsworth, to criticize our growing desire for material goods, but the solution probably isn’t going back to a farm that no longer exists and probably wasn’t sustainable when it did.

More importantly, flowery sonnets and well-turned phrases don’t put food in my kid’s stomach.

At the heart of the second story in the collection, “We Don’t Buy School Shirts in This Family,” is the idea that love isn’t some abstract idea when the “world is too much with us.” It’s easy to treat folks with respect, hug our children, and carry a song in our hearts if we have a good job, a full belly, and a sense of self-fulfillment. When the bills are due and your boss is riding your ass at work, though, life at home might not always be a refuge from the pressures of daily life.

Personally, I find the opening image of a small child wearing one of his parent’s old school shirts endearing, and the fact they can’t afford to buy him one of his own is sad. We’ve been lucky in our house. While we have pictures of my son wearing a Wilkerson Wildcats t-shirt (his mother’s when she was in school), we’ve also been able to buy school shirts if we wanted. In fact, we still have their school shirts and look forward to handing those boxes off when they have children of their own. Like photos, those shirts carry memories of a past that as parents we hope was filled with good times, joy, and love. Some days a little nostalgia is a balm against the rising tide of chaos.

But what happens when our lives go off the rails? The characters in this story struggle to reconcile the harsh reality of a life poorly lived with love and family.

For me, writing this story was interesting because the ending surprised me. When I started the story, I had a very specific image in mind about how I would close the story. Little Bobby Pritchard would get his Travis Tornado shirt, but it would be so late in the year he was too embarrassed to want it anymore. I’m sure it would have been brilliant and heart breaking.

As I wrote, though, the harsh and ugly reality of his home life took over and that ending went by the wayside. All I can do is assure you embarrassment is the least of Bobby’s worries when this story ends. As with yesterday’s entry, the paragraphs here are from the 4th Galley Proofs. Any errors are from the copy and paste.

We Don’t Buy School Shirts in This Family

“Bobby Pritchard stood in the hall wearing a pair of faded, too-big shorts and a Wilkerson Wildcats t-shirt. It used to be his mommy’s when she was in the first grade. Bobby is a Travis Tornado, but we don’t buy school shirts in this family. She told Bobby she would keep her eyes open at some garage sales, but he knows she’ll never find such a shirt.

Straddling the bedroom door frame, Bobby could see Mommy and Daddy sitting on the couch. He watched Daddy’s head tilt back as he took a drink, and Bobby heard t.v. words he knew he shouldn’t. Mommy’s head was bent forward, hunched like she was trying to protect her head. Every once in awhile she shrugged the way Bobby did at school when he was tired. Occasionally, he heard laughter followed by a grunt from the couch.

Bobby’s daddy doesn’t sound like they do on t.v. Not anymore. When they used to wrestle on the floor, Bobby could see his happiness before he heard it. Bobby would pretend to be a tickle monster, and Daddy’s laugh would wrap itself around him like a giant bubble where nothing could hurt him. He hasn’t been the tickle monster in a long time, and since last summer Daddy’s laughter has become hard and short like the rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun on t.v.”

If you are interested in the ending (or anything in the middle), click on the press release above to learn more about purchasing the collection. The stories should available on Amazon Jan. 30.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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