Twelve Hats

Each a remembrance of times past

By Brian Doyle | January 2, 2015


Reached into an obscure dresser drawer the other day and pulled out, in order, the vaguely Maurice Sendakian wool cap my daughter wore when she was age two; the soft cotton watch cap she wore home from the hospital when she was age two days; the baseball cap one son wore from age five, when he became totally infatuated with the San Antonio Spurs, until age nine, when the hat had to be retired because it was falling apart, and it nearly ended up in the rag bag, but was rescued by the boy’s father, a sentimental fool who cries when he opens a drawer and discovers what seems to be every hat that ever adorned the holy crania of his children.

Fourth from the drawer was the St. Louis Cardinals ball cap our daughter unaccountably wore when she went trout fishing so deep in the remote mountains of Idaho that you have to ride horses to achieve the Saint Joe River. Fifth was a battered green canvas cap worn by another son, mostly at the beach, which is why this hat smells faintly of salt and kelp and ketchup. Sixth is a black Portland Trail Blazers watch cap, which both boys wanted to wear but neither wore more than once because it fit so tightly on your head that your face squeezed out pinkly below it like a sausage and when you took it off your hair has assumed the shape of a castle in Spain complete with battlements and pennants. Seventh was a blue ball cap issued by the company started by the children’s grandfather on the golden anniversary of said founding. Eighth was a ratty old green Notre Dame watch cap that had started life on the head of the father, when he was a student at that august university, and then descended to each son on days of wintry emergency when they could not by maternal law leave the house without a hat, and the only hat available was dad’s ratty old college watch cap, which was down to a few threads held together by affection and nostalgia.

Ninth was a faded blue Geelong Cats watch cap, which the father had brought home from Australia after falling headlong in love with Australian football, which, as he says many times a day, is the second-greatest sport ever invented by the devious minds of men, the first being, of course, basketball. This cap was also worn once by all three children, but no more than once, as it too, like the Trail Blazers cap, had such a peculiar effect on your hair that after wearing it you had a powerful urge to just shave your head and start over from scratch.

By now I am both near tears and goggling with amazement that so many hats have taken up cramped residence in this remote drawer, but astonishingly there are even more hats, these poor things so folded and crumpled that it takes me a minute to identify them. The 10th hat is the blue soft cotton watch cap that the mother of all these children has been looking for on and off for a month, and how it got to be in the cellar of this drawer is a total mystery to me. The 11th hat is a red woolen beret that the mother of the children proudly presented to the father of the children for romantic reasons, but the one time he wore it, the children laughed so hard, one of them had a coughing fit and there was a hubbub and a ruckus, and the father understandably never wore the hat again.

The 12th hat is a thick red cotton watch cap that the father wears when the temperature dips below zero, which it does in western Oregon every thousand years, so the cap has not as yet been worn, although you never know.

I stare at the 12 hats laid out on the bed, and my heart is tumultuous, and time is all discombobulated, because if I touch one hat my daughter is two days old, and if I touch another she is 11 years old and unaccountably casting for trout, and here is my six-year-old son opening a handwritten letter from the San Antonio Spurs’ gracious star David Robinson, and here are my lanky children rolling on the floor laughing at me in my red beret, and I am so thrilled and delighted to have all these years spread out before me, and I am so bereft and sad that those delicious exhausting moments and stories are now so firmly and inarguably in the past.

I slowly put the hats back into the drawer, folding each gently and respectfully and even reverently; for though they are only hats, made of cotton and wool and whatever eerie alien plastic the St. Louis Cardinals use in their ball caps, they are of course not only hats—they are moments and stories of our children, and so, eloquently, of love.

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