The official dictionary definition of a hat is a cover for the head. In my experience, it is so much more. And, according to my late daughter, a good hat has practical, illusory and magical powers – sometimes simultaneously. She said you just know a good hat when you put it on.
When she moved east to colder climes, a hat became a necessity. Her first Calgary winter offered -54 with a wind chill and she called home often, her West Coast-centric self suspiciously pondering where they put the Asian people and the gays in “this” backwater. It freaks me out, she said. Later, once the place warmed and she warmed to the place, she welcomed a slightly more redneck version of herself but still she wondered where exactly the children disappeared to in those long, cold stretches. The perfect head apparel for cold weather occasions, she discovered, was a soft pink, soft mohair cloche; fashionable attire and a far cry from the toque she wore at home in Vancouver her entire fifteenth year to obscure her first go at total autoimmune-caused alopecia.
The cloche was used most often for business meetings or for those times when a person needs to display competence. This is especially effective, in her opinion, when said person is in over her head and requires added confidence. She referred to this hat as her “I know everything I need to know to pull it off” hat.
Her next favorite hat was the Tibetan wool hat complete with faux braids, just the right touch when a girl needs to brace herself for unpleasant medical news or for that moment when some know-it-all 3rd year medical resident decides to be the one that will save her. The first time this happens, she explained, you feel grateful, hopeful even. After several years and several dozen newbies, however, it gets old and a good Tibetan wool hat can give you the comfort of home along with the ability to sternly request removal of a certain 3rd year medical resident for the duration of the hospital visit, thus completing the illusion of some semblance of control in an out-of-control life.
The hat she favored most was the one she wore the least, as it was reserved for more tropical times. Her head fit a fedora like no other and she wore it with a confidence that could carry her through anything. Need to figure out how to book tickets in a foreign country with no credit card? Wear the fedora. You’ll figure it out.
When I held her head in my hands that last day, I rubbed my fingers across the scar she got in a bike accident as an eight year-old, along the now-silvered gash she sustained when her chair tipped over as a two year-old and her crown hit the corner behind her, over the lupus lesions that marked her scalp over a dozen years. Never forget this, I told myself. Remember the source of every mark and the story that goes with it. Remember its perfect shape and every part of the person that lived within it.
A few days later, as I prepared to return home without her for the last time, I was drawn to her favorite cowboy outfitter store. I tried on the various versions of cowboy hats she owned – the pink felt, the white straw, the brown traditional – clearly she didn’t inherit her hat-wearing skills from me. I was about to give up when I spotted it. I slid it onto my head. Perfect, just like she said. Now, on those days when I can’t put one foot in front of the other because I miss her so much, I make sure no one’s watching, reach into the closet and grab the hat. I sit and wait. Eventually it happens. Wear the hat, mum. You’ll figure it out.
© Kim Reynolds 2012