The Unsuitable Hat

By Sally Gosen Case

The Unsuitable Hat

I finally find the hat I’m looking for: a soft, white angora beret faintly yellowed with time. I search carefully for evidence of moths and am relieved to find that, once again, it has reached another winter unscathed.

She gave it to me years, no, decades ago. A lost and awkward middle-schooler, I was not only taller than the boys, I was taller than my teachers. “Coltish” seems too kind a word; it implies some hope for a graceful future. I was a brainy, clumsy tomboy, a farmer’s daughter. We worked hard. Mud and sweat were a way of life. My free time was spent riding my horse or diving deep into some adventure book.

I was mystified by the gift. It was the softest thing I could imagine. The white fabric draped beautifully in my hands. What was this for? I couldn’t wear it hunting or camping; it would get dirty. I would ruin it or lose it. She had always had a knack for giving me wonderful surprises, but this seemed like a mistake, a gift for someone else.

I wore it from time to time, tilted elegantly over my pale, thin face and protruding front teeth. It looked like something stolen from a stranger.

This unlikely gift was, in fact, meant for someone else. It was for a willowy woman in a flowing vintage coat and heels that made her taller than her city-boy husband. Her long hair flowed from under the jaunty beret. Her laughter revealed not only perfect teeth, but also a delicious comfort in her own skin. This was the person my grandmother saw before anyone else could see. This was the person she was shopping for when she bought a white angora hat.

She had a way of doing what she felt should be done, but in her own way. She had busy hands that could make anything. As she approached retirement, she started her own successful business. She had that knack, the ability to see something beyond the obvious. Her approach was always confident and unique. She seemed fearless to me. I wanted to be like her, going boldly in my own direction.

She was a country woman by birth, strong and hard-working. Going to church or picking berries, her daily uniform was a neat, plain shirtdress and nylon stockings. I never saw her as anyone else until after she died, when I was given her simple wooden jewelry box. Inside I found ethnic necklaces, bold rings and enormous, bright pins. I was mystified. Where was the woman who had chosen these pieces and carefully stored them in a padded box? I had never seen her wear such things. The tears that fell onto the unfinished wood were born of loss: the loss of a huge part of her that I hadn’t known existed until she was gone forever. But that was the part of her that had seen me so clearly years before, the part that looked beyond the obvious. She knew that a woman craves beautiful things, even if her life has no room for them. She understood that, even if I never wore the hat, somehow I needed to have it. She must have known that the time for it would come.

As rain batters my windows, I pull out more and more hats. I have headgear to suit everyone from Sherlock Holmes to Audrey Hepburn. I have to stack them three deep to get them all on the display hooks. This is my winter ritual, bringing out my winter self – beautifully tailored vintage coats, high-heeled boots, enormous, bright pins, hats.

I rinse the beret with a little vinegar to brighten the white. I shape it on a towel, soft, snowy, and feminine – still the perfect hat for me.

About this writer

  • Sally Gosen CaseSally Gosen Case lives and writes on the beautiful Oregon coast. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines, including Horticulture, Mary Jane’s Farm, and The Storyteller. Sally and her son coauthor an Oregon travel blog, casingoregon.com.

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