Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Father Wore a Hat

Wiki Images
by Robert Giles

Most of the time, Dad wore a fedora – the one I remember best was black and grey herringbone tweed. There was a tiny blue feather in the hat band. 

It sounds dressy and it may have started out that way. But hats have a way of getting more comfortable after two or three years. I think that particular hat served Dad at least eleven years.  Near its end, it looked extremely comfortable.

Dad wore the fedora to church or when he went to the bank or when we visited relatives. When he went to work in the mill, he wore a grey cloth cap like a baseball cap, only with lighter material and a wider visor. It had tiny metal grommets that circled the crown. At the apex was a small round metal button.

Was there a badge with a number on it pinned above the brim? I think there was, at least during the early days. It must have identified him as an employee of the Bridge Company.

Sometimes he pinned his fishing license to his hat and forgot it was there. Mom would remind him that he wasn’t out on a stream bank and hinted that he could unpin it. 

Mom was the family barber and gave Dad a haircut every six weeks. He never ever went to a barber after he married Mom.

Mom wasn't always a steady hand with the clippers – I can show you photographs to prove it. Dad didn’t mind. Why spend good money on a fussy haircut when you’re going to cover it up with a hat anyway?

Dad sure had a big round head. I remember trying on his hat when I was nine or ten. It came down over my eyes. If I bent forward even slightly, the hat fell on the floor.

In winter he wore a red and black plaid hunting cap. It had ear flaps that you could leave tucked up underneath if you were vain about appearance or didn't mind the cold. Dad wore his flaps down from November through March.

I’m pretty sure he took his hat off when he went to bed. Mom made sure he took it off in church - it was customary for a man to remove his hat in a public building. 

The hat creased his hair and flesh in a circle where it rested on his head. It left an imprint like the one you might see on the head of a king who had doffed his crown. No one would mistake it for a halo.

Dad always wore boxer shorts, and thin sleeveless undershirts. Over these he wore long-sleeve shirts, winter and summer. The shirts always had matching breast pockets – the pocket on the left contained a complimentary “pocket protector” from the hardware store and a mixed row of pens and pencils.

He bought work suits at J. C. Penny’s – dark blue-green pants and shirts – cotton twill. He would buy several sets and wear them six days a week for several years, then replace them, alternately buying gray or olive ones.

Dad favored a monochrome look although once in a while a plaid flannel shirt would work its way to the top of his bureau drawer.

His socks matched his pants and shirt - a paler shade of the same color. He wore ankle-high ocher leather boots with heavy treaded soles and waterproofing. He held up his pants with a wide leather belt.

A Stanley tape measure was hooked to his belt. He carried a pen knife in his pants pocket. Sometimes he had sawdust on his sleeves.

He was five foot eight, and weighed 200 pounds for most of his adult life. Dad called it “husky”. He was low and thin in the hips but big through the chest and arms. His shoes were triple EEE wide.

He wore glasses – the kind with frames that are dark on top and clear on the bottom. Dad was always about 20 years behind – not that he knew it or cared. He wore loud, wide neckties from the forties through the 50s and 60s. His ties came back in style in the 70s.

When he went to work,  Dad carried a Thermos and a brown shopping bag with sandwiches, oatmeal cookies, a banana, magazines and two or three paperback novels (“pulp” he admitted freely). He liked anything by Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey. He always read the Saturday Evening Post, and Outdoor Life or Field and Stream.

He was a craneman and read through his breaks since he didn't want to bother returning to earth.

Dad considered the rainbow trout to be the world’s finest expression of beauty, but on a road trip, he would pull onto an overlook and order everyone out of the car to appreciate the sun going down over the mountains.

Dad lived to be ninety-five. He looked like a stranger lying there in his casket among the flowers, in a dark suit, motionless, thin and without his hat.


  1. Thanks Robert...my sister and I was just talking about Daddy's fedora. He had two of them. One was grey..this one was for wearing to Special Occasionss and Church. The brown one was for any other time.

    1. Anonymous, glad we could share memories of our fathers. Thanks for your note.

  2. This was lovely, Robert. It reminded me so much of my dad - not all the details, but the kind of life they chose, and the kindness and regularity of their daily routines, and the way they simply did what they needed to do to take care of their family. One more way that things were so much more simple and .wholesome back then, I guess, and a time that we were fortunate to have been alive.

    1. Anonymous, thank you for the lovely note. I love the way you have phrased it "...the kindness and regularity of their daily routines, and the way they simply did what they needed to do...".