A Lifetime of Hats
By Janine Moden
My hat is soft and light and made of feathers. They are of many sizes and shapes, and each has its own pattern and texture. The colors look to be taken from a painter’s palette: vermilion red, indigo blue, hot fuchsia. Rose and amber, sapphire and tangerine. Every shade you can imagine. At the top of the hat is a jaunty feather that looks like it might have been plucked from a wild turkey. It is long and crisp, speckled white and black, and has a hard, dark quill.
I take my hat off and hold it to the light. One of its feathers drifts away. It is a soft white downy thing, perhaps from the breast of a wild goose. It lifts into a clear sky and its filaments rearrange themselves into a delicate white lace. The lace ruffles itself into a baby bonnet. The bonnet was made a long time ago by a woman who lived in Sintra, a small village high in the Portuguese mountains, and bought by my parents on one of their Sunday outings. They often chose Sintra as their destination, and they always went in a horse drawn carriage. It was their day together for just each other, away from embassy parties, and servants and children. Their new marriage and its passionate energy demanded these small private sojourns. I always stayed behind with my German governess and played on a blanket on the terrace of our cool stucco house with its tiled roof and marble floors.
Another feather drifts upward. It is small and stiff and dappled pale yellow and green, the tail feather of a small tropical bird, perhaps. It catches the breeze and twirls round and round till it becomes the fringed scarf that my mother tied under my chin. It kept a sleeting wind out of my ears as I walked with her down a New York City street and Hitler marched across Europe
Other feathers pull away and glide upwards. A flat brown one cartwheels above me and I crane my head around to see it. The feather becomes the western cowboy hat that I took with me on a Portuguese freighter which would deliver me back to my birthplace. I thought the hat looked good with my new fancy-fringed Indian outfit, and I wore it whenever I walked the decks of this creaking, tired boat. The boat heaved and thrashed in the Atlantic winter storms and everyone got sick but me, and I had to tie the hat strings in a knot under my chin so it wouldn’t blow away.
Now I see a sooty-black piece of fluff disengage from my hat. It goes this way and that, and its edges spiral outward and then come together into the black velvet riding cap I wore when I was ten and lived in England because my mother liked it there better than Portugal. I was in love with Miss Harris, my riding teacher. She was a very British lady with well-behaved ponies and a vicious parrot named Ernest. He bit me on the cheek once and then I hated him. The ponies were my true love. Except for Miss Harris, that is, she was the best.
The black velvet morphs into brown. It’s the one I wore with Monsieur Gaston who came every day to my grandmother’s house and took me for a morning canter in the forests of Chantilly. We went before the racehorses were taken out and the forest was thick and green and quiet. The paths were wide, very wide, to accommodate the large and temperamental horses, and the dirt was deep and soft and kind to hooves. Above the paths the trees formed perfect arches, a cathedral ceiling that stretched before us like a celestial promise.
Another feather, another hat. This is the one I wore to church on Easter morning when I was a proper Virginia girl and spoke in a southern accent and giggled and tried to be cute. When I succeeded, people forgot that I was a mongrel mix of British and French and Portuguese, and minus a father to boot. In the 1950’s, small town southerners were wary of spotty backgrounds like mine.
Now a fat, brown feather pulls loose. It grows more and more unkempt and ragged as it slides away. It evolves into the safari hat I wore in the bush. It was dusty and had sweat stains on its brim. When I wore it I looked like an adventuress or an explorer. But in truth I was simply a pampered expatriate. I lived a cushy life in Nairobi and got to go on safari every weekend if I wanted. I could sit under the spreading acacia trees in soft savannah grass, and hear the thudding migration of zebra and wildebeests, or climb a hill and see the yawning of fat contented lions. My land rover and some provisions and my hat were all I needed.
Two more feathers, two more hats. Black and white, Yin and yang. Cold and hot. The black one kept my head warm near the top of a mountain after I had passed through a progression of rich jungle, scrubby heather, and giant Euphorbia trees. There was brilliant sun, sliding shale, sleet, rain, snow and wind. At 16,000 feet, I loved my hat.
The white one was a baseball cap that kept the Northwest light out of my eyes when my boat was pointed into the slant of the sun. Water nibbled at its bow and orcas crested on the horizon and warmth and light wrapped around me.
Once more I lift my hat with all its birded finery to the sky. It grows light in my hands as its feathers float away in trails of color above my head, undulating into pale and downy clouds high up in the atmosphere. Now only the long black and white speckled feather remains and I grasp it tightly. I will get my small knife and whittle its end into a sharp point, and I will dip it into a deep pot of black ink and write some stories with it.
Fidalgo Island Guild Member Posts:
Kathleen Kaska – Morris on Sundays
Jared McVay – Melinda
Jennifer Sherin – God’s Dream Girl
Jane Billinghurst – Shades of Paradise
Lysa Evans – A Piece of our Past
Dena Blatt – Opposites Attract