6pm sharp. Already late to the reading of a book I can’t even tell you the title of. Perched in the back row, stuffed between toes of boots and heels of chairs – I tried my best to listen to the author, I really did. But between not being able to see him as he spoke, and the worry of ripping my extremely, unnecessarily tight pants as I sat cross-contorted on the floor, was not the most conducive mix for focus.
Straining my ears and shifting my weight, I looked around the room to see a haze of backs, shoes, and the ceiling. As my eyes veered upwards, I paused at a hat. A hat woven of straw it seemed. One that was worn to its bone – a muslin shell peaking out vulnerably under the torn out chunks. I’d never seen a hat like this. One that screamed a story yet harbored such mystery. Pools of dust collected in the central crevice and along the base, tucked under the fraying ribbon.
I had to know the story. I had to know what could have possibly happened to this hat to cause fractures in such unusual places. From the worn, white, denim jacket to the ruggedly, smoothed-out hands I knew our protagonist was an artist. And every artist has a story – his hat definitely told a tale.
Entranced by the hat and the sound of an invisible voice, I started thinking of my own storylines for such a vivid visual. Had our protagonist gotten in a scuffle with a horse that took his hat in a fury and returned it with nibbled corners? Had it been unworn for so long that it collected dust and cracked upon re-use? Or had it been a staple of his wardrobe for countless years that it weathered with the elements of time?
It turned out to be the latter – the most simple of my plots, but still the most satisfying.
After the clapping for the un-named speaker ceased, man with hat left and exchanged a smile. Perhaps he somehow heard my muted shutter as I snuck pictures of the hat during the talk. Regardless of the reasoning for his farewell kindness, I shuffled after him and introduced myself. Without allotting time for him to respond to my introduction, I blurted how fascinated I’d become with his hat and slightly begged him to tell me the story behind it.
“Oh the hat? It’s not nearly as fascinating as I am.”
A palm, not straw, woven hat purchased at a Harvard Square Street Fair in 1999 for $10 at an Ecuadorian booth.
He admits he should’ve bought 10 of them because this one is so worn and they’re rather expensive to order online. 18 years with this hat. 18 years of scraping it with bags strapped and unstrapped across his body. Several moments he’s sat on it or tossed it. One time it was run over by a motorcycle.
He laughs when we, for Lily and I were on this endeavor together, admit we spent our time at the talk mesmerized by his hat. “Sometimes I’m so embarrassed by it. Today I even tried to sit in the back to not block anyone’s view, but you girls found a way.”
History of a hat. His story of a hat.