by Robin Sauerwein
My husband, Bill says that he wants to be buried with it. IT is a black fedora he bought when he was 18 years old at a United Store for $19. But he may change his mind and pass it on to one of his two sons, the one who will give it as much love and respect as he has these past years.
That black fedora has seen better days. Its rim flexes loosely now and it has deep gray creases running through it. You can shape the leather in various positions, making for a variety of looks and uses. It can be squashed and stepped on and it still manages to look somewhat like a hat.
He wouldn’t think about replacing it. Nothing could replace the history or its rugged beauty, which is if you believe that a hat can have that trait.
It started falling apart last year. The threads started to fray along the brim so when we went camping last week, my husband brought a needle and a trail of hemp along to repair it.
“Every story I’ve ever told or adventure I’ve had, that hat has been involved. It’s been there,” my husband said as if speaking about an old friend. He’s had to replace his knife and walking stick but never his hat.
“It’s been halfway up Devil’s Tower glaring at the slow moving people who wouldn’t get out of the way so I could finish the climb,” he told me taking a seat by the fire. He pulled out the sewing kit and started to sew the hole.
He scoffs at people who do not understand the hat’s meaning or its many uses. Not only does he use the hat as a plate for sliced cheese and summer sausage while driving along the North Shore for our next adventure on the Superior Hiking Trail. But it also serves as an air conditioning unit, either by soaking it in water or putting ice on top of the rim. (As the ice melts the water dribbles down onto your face.) Instant relief. It has been a hot pad for cooking and he has put many fires out with it, as well as picking up hot logs.
And it’s not every day you get a hat that can serve as a fire starter, a dog dish, and a bag to collect deer bones and owl pellets found in the woods. And if you spin it flat like a Frisbee, it inflates itself magically in midair. It can do all of that and never be cleaned unless you count walking in the woods in a thunderstorm or during a blizzard in February.
Many years ago he thought he lost his hat while on a hike at his mom’s house. He sent his son Stefan looking for it on a trail they had been on earlier. But soon after Bill found it in the back of his truck and came into his mom’s house with a big smile on his face wearing this scrunched up dusty, crusty piece of a hat.
His mother looked up at the hat and said, “You sent Stefan out looking for that piece of crap.”
“My hat did not measure up to my mother’s opinion of a hat. It’s kind of like bringing home the wrong kind of girlfriend. She can’t get that initial meeting out of her head,” he said.
A similar thing happened two years ago while we were in the Boundary Waters. He was riding alone in his canoe when it tipped over. Bill has had only a few swimming lessons in his life and wasn’t wearing a life preserver. Instead of grabbing for the canoe, he swam for his hat first. (I think if I had been in the canoe too, he may have had to think twice about which one to go after first).
After sewing the hat awhile, he pulled out a dark strip from the inside lining and smiled at me.
“I am going to put this on your walking stick,” he told me. “It has 22 years of my sweat on it.”
I smiled. There is no reason to doubt him on this.
His best friend Joe even bought him a brand new shiny leather fedora to wear at his wedding. He did wear it to the wedding although he would have preferred the old one if it didn’t look so out of place with his white shirt and suspenders. But that was the last time that new fedora has been on his head. It remains buried in the basement corner attracting spiders and layers of dust. Even if he bent it into submission or had a truck run it over, it still would not feel and look the same as his old black one.
The hat has taken on its own personality. And in a way it is so accommodating, folding up like an origami crane, so compact and elegant. Unobtrusive. It can be crammed into a backpack easily and made to do almost anything.
The hat is at a comfortable stage in its life with natural creases and folds. The rim bends almost effortlessly. I have to admit when Bill wears it, he does take on a certain resemblance to Indiana Jones but a little less clean-shaven and with a lot less hair.
“The fact is the hat is going to be with me to the end. I’m going to have to start beating the other hat so that I have transplantable materials in case my hat gets a hole in it,” he said putting his pocket sewing kit away.
All sewn, he sighed happily, walked down to the river and filled the hat with water for our dog, Lucy.
My mother-in-law says my tolerance for that hat is beyond wifely duties.
I am wondering if I should tell her about his favorite knife.
published in Country Magazine, 2010