Family traditions come in all forms. But for the McCabe family in Fayetteville, the tradition of wearing the same shirt on the first day of the first grade was extended last week when six year-old Killian Marshall became the 13th family member since 1958 to wear the vintage shirt.
“It’s a simple white linen weave cotton shirt adorned with blue and red diamonds; at a glance, most would say it is nothing special. For the McCabe family, however, it represents decades of memories,” The Citizen reported in 2007.
Killian’s father, Marshall, said new first grader wore the shirt to Landmark Christian School last week to keep the family tradition alive. The last time it was worn was three years ago when Marshall’s oldest child, Cali, after some encouragement from her mother also donned the shirt for her first day in the first grade at Landmark. The school, normally requiring uniforms, made an exception for Cali in 2007 and for Killian last week, Marshall said.
And it has been 39 years since Marshall had worn the shirt on his first day in the first grade.
“My brother made a big deal of passing the shirt down to me when it was Cali’s turn to wear it,” recalled Marshall, adding Sunday that, “(Killian) is now the final, one from the McCabe family to wear the shirt on the first day of first grade, and this now completes the second generation. Since 1958, 13 family members have worn the shirt, and it has been nearly 40 years from when I wore the famous shirt.”
But for Marshall McCabe and his wife Kathy, there is even more significance to his young son wearing the shirt and continuing the tradition.
“To make this even more sentimental to our family, my mother, Lois McCabe (age 87) who started the tradition with her first son, saw Killian’s picture with me on August 12 as a framed gift at 11 a.m. That night she passed away at 10:50 p.m. knowing she left behind a family legacy that she created with her five boys, and we will continue,” Marshall explained.
The Citizen in 2007 reported that, “Lois McCabe first purchased the shirt for her eldest son Charles P. McCabe III (Chuck) for his first day of school. ‘I’ll never forget his first day of school,’ Lois McCabe said. He looked so cute in the shirt.’
While McCabe said she didn’t originally plan for the shirt to become a tradition, she thought that it would be a neat idea to put the shirt away for her other boys to wear on their first days of school.
After Chuck wore the shirt, his four younger brothers each wore the shirt in turn on their first days of first grade. Bert, who is four years younger than Chuck, was second in line, followed by Stan and Jim. Marshall McCabe became the fifth and final of Lois and Charles McCabe’s sons to wear the shirt when he attended his first day at J. E. Robins Elementary School in 1970. The tradition of the shirt became known throughout the J. E. Robins Elementary School, and by the time Marshall wore the shirt, it was such a well known anecdote that the local Charleston, West Virginia newspaper shared it with the community.”
The tradition was born. And now, eight of Lois and Charles McCabe’s grandchildren have joined the five sons in wearing the white cotton shirt with red and blue diamonds. Marshall told The Citizen that the tradition also includes preserving the shirt for the next occasion.
“As the tradition goes, after each child has worn the shirt it is put into a bag and placed back into a closet until the next first grader comes along,” Marshall said.
Marshall in 2007 said that the shirt’s significance lies deeper than all of this however. For the family it represents the importance of a good education. Charles McCabe was an attorney who knew the importance of education.
“One thing my dad always stressed was to get a college education. It didn’t matter what career path we chose, but he did want us to graduate from college,” Marshall told The Citizen, adding that all of the McCabe boys completed college and have gone on to have successful careers. “All of my nephews and nieces have done real well. We’ve all done real well.”