Howie and the Muscle Shirt


‘There goes the neighborhood’

Could it be Spring Fever? Last week I wrote about going topless. And now I’m going to tell a story that has my Brother Scott removing his top. Of course he was a kid, and a boy. But still.

The top in question was an item of clothing known as a ‘muscle shirt’. There’s a fine example pictured in the photo at the top of this post. The photo also features a rather fine example of what was known as a ‘banana-seat bike’, also popular during the Time of Which We’ll Speak. At least popular among pre-adolescent boys.

Important note: no self-respecting pre-adolescent boy of my acquaintance would appear dead in those fringed shorts, though. Picture must have been taken in California.

But I digress, as is my wont.

This story takes place when The Henry Family lived on the West Side. The West Side of Carlyle, Illinois, that is. No Sharks or Jets, but plenty of neighborhood kids roaming free and getting into mischief.

There was one kid in particular, named Howie, who got into all sorts of mischief. Throwing rocks at houses was his particular forte. But he also liked to wander into Other Peoples’ Houses and pop up at random moments. Oh, my goodness! Howie! Whatever are you doing in our bathroom?’

But this story isn’t about Howie, fascinating child though he was. This story is about the time our Aunt Marilyn came for a visit and we got out the badminton set. See, Aunt Marilyn was rather a young sporty aunt, so games were called for. On other occasions we whipped out the croquet set. But this time it was badminton.

Now, you might think of badminton as rather a genteel, dignified Downton-Abbeyesque kind of game. But these were Henrys playing. And it was summertime in Carlyle, which was in the general orbit of St. Louis, climate-wise. Which meant it was hot and muggy. How hot and muggy? People in the British Foreign Service stationed in St. Louis qualified for hazardous-duty pay.

Because we had Company (Aunt Marilyn), Scott and Roger got to wear their brand-new matching muscle shirts. The ones Mom paid Good Money for at the Will-Mary Shoppe. They were striped, in rather bright colors, if I recall correctly. At any rate, they were of a very distinctive and recognizable pattern.

So, Scott and Roger, decked out in their brand-spankin’ new matching muscle shirts, were playing fast and furious badminton and working up quite a sweat. Here’s what Scott and Roger looked like at the time. (Sorry, I have no photographic record of them sporting the muscle shirts, nor of them together in the Carlyle heat):

Scott (left) and Roger hit the fish-hatchery ice for some sporty winter skating fun. Not sure if muscle shirts are under those hoodies

Scott (left) and Roger hit the fish-hatchery ice for some sporty winter skating fun. Not sure if muscle shirts are under those hoodies

Well anyway. Scott, feeling uncomfortably warm, stripped off his muscle shirt and tossed it to the ground. Everyone played on for a while, Mom calls us in to supper, the game gets put away.

Mom to Scott: ‘What happened to your shirt?’

Scott to Mom: ‘Oh. My shirt. I guess it’s still outside.’

Mom: ‘Well, go and find it. Supper’s waiting.’

(screen door slam; pause for about 5 minutes)

Scott: ‘I can’t find it.’

Mom: ‘Well, you better find it. I paid Good Money for that shirt.’

Well, you guessed it. He couldn’t find the shirt. Neither could Roger, or me, or Aunt Marilyn, or Dad, or anyone who’d been out there playing badminton.

We pretty much ransacked the yard, and the house too. ‘Maybe you brought it in the house, and just forgot you did.’

No muscle shirt. But here’s the interesting part.

There was this kid — no, not Howie*, the Naughty Kid — this was Harry, a really good kid. This Good Kid kept riding by our house that summer on his banana-seat bike, wearing the shirt (!)

*I named the post ‘Howie and the Muscle Shirt’ because I think it’s funnier than ‘Harry and the Muscle Shirt’. Sorry, Howie. And Harry.

The sight of this Harry Kid riding by wearing Scott’s distinctively-patterned muscle shirt would infuriate Mom. I can still see her, standing at the sink in the kitchen window, wringing the dishtowel and muttering darkly under her breath: ‘The gall! And I thought Harry was such a good kid!’

Well, it’s a good thing it was a Small Town, one where one just did not confront one’s neighbors. At least not about missing muscle shirts.

Because, wouldn’t you know it? The next time some Company had a hankering for a little game of badminton, guess what was inside the box, nestled amongst the netting?

Yup. That darned muscle shirt.

This story came to mind not only because I wrote about my Topless Episode, but because I too have been tormented by a missing shirt. About two weeks ago I was reaching in the closet for my black Gap turtleneck — and it just wasn’t there. Not in the laundry, not mixed up with shirts of The Child’s or The Dude’s. And, nope, not even in the badminton-set box. I just ordered a replacement, so now I’m sure to find it. I hope. And my Family hopes even harder. ‘Are you sure it’s not in with your stuff??’

I don’t have any more stories about missing shirts, or about me going topless (thank the Decency Gods). But you can check out more small town tales in the sidebar tab ‘Growing Up Lutheran’. There’s one called ‘Small Towns, Big City’ you might enjoy. And, of course, the ever-popular ‘Dad Eggs and Ham’.

Thank you for reading. Enjoy your week. I’ll be back next Tuesday with some sort of story about The Child, since her birthday’s coming up. Now I have to go ransack the bedroom (again). That black turtleneck has to be somewhere.


New York City. March 2015

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

13 thoughts on “Howie and the Muscle Shirt

  1. Thanks for the good writing, Alice. People still wear muscle shirts only now they are called “wife beaters”. Awful name, I know, I just hope the hubster does not question me about where his disgusting 20 year old slippers are which he did not pay good money for. Is there such a thing as buying something with bad money?

    • And thanks for the good comment(s), Judy! Yes, ‘wife beaters’. Ugh. And I hear you on the topic of disgusting slippers. Why is it that the most comfy things are often the most disgusting? (Reminder to self: toss my 20-year-old chenille robe.)

    • Thanks, Peggy. Glad you enjoyed it. And yes I do miss good old Carlyle. But like you (and my mom) I would no doubt suffer the loss of muscle shirt in silence. After all, everybody knows everybody (!)

  2. Ruth Meisenheimer

    My last clothing purchase at the Will-Mary Shoppe was a polyester yellow polka-dot pantsuit! And Camille turned up at church in the identical suit. Plus, went to bridge and three of us had the same blouse on, all from Will-Mary! You bring back fun memories, Alice. XO

    • Gosh. Thanks, Ruth! That’s the nicest comment ever. I aim for those fun memories. Good to know I’m hitting the mark, at least some of the time (!) p.s. I would love to see you in that polka-dot pantsuit. (Don’t know about Camille.)

  3. Scott

    This act of garment carelessness reminds me of when (several years later) I used Mom’s Brand New blue sateen scarf as a bandana while water skiing in silty Lake Carlyle.

    Yes, it was careless and thoughtless, but she did leave it in the ski boat, so – fair game, I say…

I'd love to hear from you