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Friday, 11 July 2008

Where Did You Hide My Hat?

By Celia Jones

While playing dress ups, my granddaughter discovered my father’s old flat hat. As I watched her fingering the faded herringbone hat with its frayed satin lining, a myriad of memories came flooding in. I had brought this hat back with me to Australia after my father’s funeral.

I don’t know where my father got this particular hat, but he never went outside without it unless he wore his white peaked hat for when he was painting.

There always used to be a ritual whenever my father left the house. “Where did you hide my hat, Katie?” he would ask my mother, pretending to search amongst the disarray of their kitchen. A flurry of activity followed where my mother tried to find the hat, while protesting that she hadn’t touched it. Inevitably, he found the hat under some newspapers on a little table, where he knew it always was.

Looking at the hat, my granddaughter was examining, I again felt the security I did whenever I was in my father’s presence, the no-frills honest warmth and humor that my father exuded.

As a child, we lived in a small upstate New York town in the Catskill Mountains. My father would often take me for a walk to town, where he always bought me a Fruit and Nut Chunky chocolate. In his trusty hat, he was a familiar figure in the community; he stopped frequently to chat with people. His favorite people were often those marginalized in the community, the ones who were experiencing bad times, divorces, drink problems, mental disorders. Never judgmental, he always lent a sympathetic ear.

On one of our walks, we stopped to chat with a man whose cancer had destroyed his throat and vocal cords. He had a device which he put against his neck to allow him to “talk” by amplifying the air flow. His speech sounded like a vibrating piece of sheet metal, but my father kept on chatting nonchalantly to him, not really noticing the strange noises emanating from the man’s throat.

In between bites of the Chunky chocolate on our way home, I bombarded my father with questions about this man and all aspects of the universe. He’d do his best to give some kind of answer even if he had to make it up.

When I was older and feeling the usual teenage angst, he used to take me out for a drive. I remember sitting beside him in the car on our long country rides through the Napa Valley, past the vineyards, feeling safe and loved, calmed by my father’s quiet, behatted presence.

After a while, he got me talking about what I was studying until I was relaxed enough to talk about the things that were bothering me personally.

He would always quietly listen to me and then offer his opinion. He was a keen judge of character and integrity of people, but he always gave people the benefit of the doubt. He used to joke that he couldn’t find a new hat as his head size was too small - “Little head, no brains,” and he’d ruffle his hair and put on a bewildered grin like Stan Laurel. But, my father was no fool.

That trusty hat of his went through some good and bad times - illnesses, losses, marriages, graduations and grandchildren. After I married and immigrated to Australia, I used to make yearly trips home to see my parents. After the first trip back with my baby daughter, I thought I’d never find my parents in the large crowd at the arrivals terminal until I spotted my father’s hat. It was like a beacon leading me to him and my mother, who was always at his side.

Seeing my baby daughter for the first time, he ecstatically took her in his arms and danced around with her. After that, on my flights home, I’d always scan the crowd looking for that hat and never went wrong until my last trip.

On landing in San Francisco, I started looking for his hat in the crowd as usual until I remembered that I wouldn’t be seeing my father wearing it again. My nephew picked me up at the airport in my father’s old pickup truck and took me to his bedside.

“Look at me, Nana” shouted my little granddaughter who had reverently been examining the hat before carefully putting it on. It almost fit her. She was really pleased with herself in the hall stand mirror. As she gave a dimpled smile, I felt a familiar, warm presence amidst us.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Don't forget to vote in the current Excellence in Storytelling poll in the right sidebar. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a touching memorial this story is to your father. The fact that he treated all with dignity and that you enjoyed hearing stories about these people he chatted to along the way, speaks much for both your characters. Thank you for writing such a moving portrait of your father.

A beautiful tribute to your father, Celia. You were so fortunate to have him by your side. I believe the love he gave you that makes you still feel his warm presence is true immortality.

Wearing something from a loved one who is gone is like being wrapped in a hug. Your father was a good one.

I loved reading this tribute to your father.

Hello Celia,

Such a nice story about your dad.

Weren't we lucky to have them as Dad's and don't we have a lot to thank our Mothers for? They picked him!

What a wonderful tribute. Isn't is great to have that hat which brings back so many memories and keeps your father alive for you. He sounds like a very special man. I have my husband's little black cap that I was no fan of when he was alive, but that I cherish today because it brings back so many good memories.

Thank you for your great comments. Yes, my father was a fine man and though he died 25 years ago, I still
miss him and feel like I need him.

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