the story of a hat
Nostalgia aside, it wasn’t going to happen. It cost sixty dollars. Too much. But I tried it on anyway. Damnit, it fit perfectly. And it was decorated beautifully - all along the brim was a line of leather with pieces of deer bone and metal discs decorating the crest. The primitive part of me loved that men, sheep, cows, and deer had all come together to make this hat. Four animals I either planned to raise one day, or had a connection too. I took it off sadly, and as I was putting it back I realized it had a black stain on it. Like someone with a small paintbrush of shoe polish had wiped against it by accident. Score.
When a sales clerk asked me if I needed help, I showed him the stain and asked, how much for a hat with an imperfection on it? Fifteen dollars, was his answer. I could barely hold myself together. I bought it right then and there, cash on the barrelhead.
At first the hat was used only for what I intended. Dog walks, trips to Di’s Farm, walks in the rain – you know, outside stuff. Since I was using it as a rain hat it took a hell of a beating. After a few months the Rocky Mountain winter had turned it lopsided. The moisture had bent the rim so it turned up only on one side. I tried to set of the aesthetic by shoving chicken and crow feathers in the opposite side. It was undeniable that it was getting some character.
I realized as spring rain turned into summer sun, I was wearing it more often. It kept the glare out of my eyes. So I started wearing it in the garden and around the farmhouse, forgetting about it on trips into town and wearing it into grocery stores by accident. But people loved it and told me so. They didn’t know I was a design student from the Mid Atlantic. They saw me as any other Idahoan in a fine mountain hat. I got more compliments on that hoof-and-mouth-disease-lookin’ beast then I ever received in my life in a dress.
So I kept wearing it, all summer and through the fall. After a while I learned to love it. I wore it everywhere. It had molded itself so much into me that people would ask me why I wasn’t wearing it if I left it at home. I couldn’t lose it either. Over the years I had left it at friends’ houses, outside on porches, in strange cars, restaurants… but it always came back to me. It’d be at my desk on Monday or the restaurant would have it behind the counter. It never lost me.
When I left Idaho, I wore that hat as I drove away. I wore it when I was sick across all of Montana (I threw up on a mass grave at the Little Big Horn in it. Unintentionally of course.) It flew with me to Pennsylvania and Tennessee. I played fiddle in it at last year’s Old Timer’s Festival (Which for the first time since I set foot in Knoxville, I won’t go to this fall. It’s unfortunately too expensive.)
That hat has seen where I’ve been, and will come with me where I am headed. When I am standing at the post at my first sheep dog trial - you better damn well believe that hat will be on my head as I shout “Away to me, Knox!” a shepherd’s crook in my arms. It’s an avatar for my life of animals and dirt, of snow and rain, of Tennessee and Idaho. It’s been with me everywhere. I consider it a friend.
A few months ago I had to go to a photo shoot for the book. The publisher wanted pictures of me for the website and promotional materials, as well a back cover. I was talking to girl friends back in Sandpoint about what I should wear and was asked, flat out by Diana -
“You’ll be wearing your hat for the photo shoot right? No one here will believe it’s you unless you’re wearing that hat.”
If you pick up my book this winter, you’ll see the me in that hat on the jacket. We wouldn’t have it any other way.