JOURNAL ENTRY #1: A spring day. Early morning. Just an ordinary day until….
I noticed a small crowd had gathered outside the Village Hat Shop. Two young adults came into the store and approached me at the counter. All smiles, they said they were here with their sisters, brothers and cousins to buy a special hat for their grandfather. They wanted to know if they could take hats out to him to try on. Because the grandfather was in a wheelchair, they were sure they wouldn’t all fit into our store. After several, unsuccessful, trips outside with various hats (the grand-kids couldn’t get the nuances he was looking for right), he gathered himself up and made his way into the store to lean on the counter with his oxygen tank resting on the floor next to him. This was a man who had worn hats most of his 80+ years and he knew what he was looking for. He told me he had a new suit and a spiffy pair of new shoes (did I know what spats were?) and all he needed was the perfect hat. In spite of his obvious ill health, he was beaming from the love and attention of his young family – catering to him and chattering with each other, trying on hats, posing and laughing.
He pointed to a gentleman’s style Dobbs hat behind the counter. The Jet, a fur felt fedora made in America, was the hat he was looking for – with its stingy brim and classic center pinch set off by the iconic Dobbs coach pin and side feather – this was it. Well, this was almost it. When he put the hat on his head, it sat perched inches above his ears, obviously too small. “7,” he said. “I always wear a 7.” After a quick search through our inventory, I realized we did not have his size in stock. I told him this wasn’t a big problem. I could order his hat and have it for him in about 2 weeks. He replied that he wouldn’t be here – oh, I said, maybe one of his kids could pick it up for him, or I could ship it to him. He laughed softly. His family, having overheard our conversation were suddenly silent. “No,” he said, “I won’t be here. I’m dying. This will be my last hat.”
Still smiling, his family gathered protectively around him, a grand-niece told me it was true. He had about 2 weeks to live and he was using that time to get his affairs in order. Getting a new hat to wear for his funeral was a very important part of his plan.
I remember this man and his apparent love of life and family. I remember how I straightaway warmed up the hat stretcher, steaming and stretching that size 6 7/8 to a perfect 7. How he cocked it at just the right angle and grinned at his family as they made their way out the door. The family patriarch and his last hat.
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