As we prepare for our journey across the pond, I’ve been perusing old letters that were sent home and saved from our days spent there. These letters have been tucked away and forgotten for a very long time. Uncovering their contents has given us much pause for memory, smiles, and even a few tears… especially when I found the letter about the hat.
For our first months in England, we were feeling very young and very alone without our supporting network of family and friends. So it was an incredibly happy day when my dear grandparents came for a visit. They brought with them a palpable sense of home. My grandparents represented a familiar cocoon of security that I had experienced as far as I could push my memories. Their love for me had been a constant in my life, so it was with open arms that we welcomed them. They also brought their own childish excitement and adventurous spirit to be traveling abroad for the first time ever at the ages of 78 and 80 years old respectively.
During their visit, they wanted to explore their roots. My grandmother’s ancestors were from Scotland, so we slated an excursion northward to see what we could find. We landed in Edinburgh and combed that beautiful city in an effort to see everything – the strangeness of it all, as well as the familiar.
One day while exploring, we came upon the hat. It was all by itself in a shop front window. I could see my grandfather’s face reflected in the shiny glass as he gazed longingly at the woven threads of black, brown, and tan wool. My grandfather had never owned a hat in my recollection. “Try it on”, we both urged simultaneously. “Oh no, that would be silly” he replied. My grandparents were very frugal and practical people and spent their money on others, and usually not for anything as frivolous as a hat. With much urging, we convinced my grandfather that vacations are the perfect occasion for being silly. So, he went inside, picked it up and carefully and tentatively adjusted it on his dear slightly balding head. He felt the need to tilt it first one way and then another before he proclaimed it just right. We guided him to a nearby mirror and he smiled and then laughed at his reflection. My grandmother and I convinced him that he simply must have that hat. After a tad of deliberation, he bought it. It was a fixture on his head for the rest of his days in England and he took it proudly home to Georgia. It was the prop that allowed him to tell the tales of his trip abroad to everyone he met.. In his best brogue accent, he called it his Scottish hott . It was worth every penny….and then some.
My grandfather died several years later. I asked if I might keep his hat. Through it, I could touch these memories. It reminded me of many things about my grandfather, but it also gave me a glimpse of the boy inside before I had the privilege of calling him my Papa.
It sat on a shelf until my son Matt discovered it one day when he was about eight years old, the well-worn hat being just slightly older than he. It became a part of his professional sleuthing attire, as he worked on one of his many cases during his Hercule Poirot phase of obsession. At times we would find the hat perched precariously on top of his head in total slumber. He would adamantly later claim that it would help him dream the right solutions to solve the mystery. Matt felt the pull of the hat just as my grandfather had.
Today that hat is hanging on a very visible coat rack in our home. It unfortunately doesn’t fit any of the heads of the males in our family anymore. Instead, it became a fixture of our landscape, and blended into near obscurity as things often do when they are always there. I am thankful for once again being prodded to remember that special day with a very special person.
“Sharing tales of those we’ve lost is how we keep from really losing them.”
~ Mitch Albom