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The International Writers Magazine: Life Storiies

Requiem for a hat
Ryan Sirmons

The greatest mark of individuality in my father’s family was their baseball caps. Everyone had one: my aunt, my father, my grandfather, my uncles. Whenever the family was together, they always wore them, indoors, outdoors, and everywhere except church. They came off at the dinner table – grandmother’s rules – but would inevitably go back on their heads before they were back out the door. The hat was the fashion accessory of the family, and I felt thusly compelled to wear one.

My mother felt that baseball caps were juvenile, and more than once would stop me from leaving the house because of "that stupid hat." I often protested that my father wore hats, or even that he had given me the particular "stupid hat" to which she was referring, but her response would still be to take off the stupid hat. Perhaps it was through the denial by my mother to wear baseball caps that I turned to hats of a more unusual persuasion. It wouldn’t be fair to fully pin that on her, though, as I romanticised myself into many situations of grandeur that required a particular hat. By wearing a hat of distinction, I could inspire the same thoughts in those around me, without needing to convince them of my greatness as a usually non-popular, somewhat-geeky-but-not-entirely-so guy.

At fifteen, we went to Tarpon Springs, a Florida sponge-fishing community inhabited by the descendants of Greek fishermen, and I bought a Greek fisherman’s hat. It was black, with what I considered a luxurious red silk-effect interior. I imagined myself as a bearded fisherman, confronting the sea much like the Old Man and the Sea. I thought of the salt crystals that would form inside and burst out of the seams as they absorbed more water, how they would almost rot the integrity of the hat whilst, by their mere presence, enhance the virility of the wearer.

I wore that hat for two years. I think my mother tacitly approved of it as it was mark of self-expression (she liked that sort of thing). Its bizarreness drew comments from my peers – not always nice – and my father’s family was too polite to say anything about it. Yet I kept wearing it. It became less about being the grizzled fisherman, and more about something that was unique to me.

The hat didn’t survive the teenage love affair with the automobile. I got a car at seventeen – a red sports car with T-tops – and I simply, not maliciously, forgot about the hat. I became more known for owning a red Camaro than I had ever been known for the hat.

When I did come across the hat again, some years later, it had salt crystals formed in its brim. It was crushed, and browned in places as if from sun exposure. The crystals did not come from the sea, however, nor the browning from the sun. No; instead, it came to an ignominious end in the back of my mother’s leaky car boot, where an old battery had been placed on top of it, crushing it and dripping on it. I must have put the hat in the trunk, an infamous place for the ruination of things, shortly after getting my own car. Who knows when the battery arrived. The battery acid, in reaction to the damp of the water in the boot, slowly ate away at parts of the hat and formed salt crystals as the residue of its destruction. The corrosive atmosphere bleached the cheap black fabric, which gave it a more sun-browned appearance.

I picked it up by one corner and reflected on its falsely-acquired briny smell and appearance. I thought about what that hat had once signified, how I would never wear it again, even if it had been given a decent retirement on a hat rack. I straightened it out, trying to achieve the studied indifference the shape of the hat had once offered, before placing it in its own black trash bag, and into the rubbish bin.

Two years later, I would buy another equally atypical hat whilst in England – a greenish-brown fedora – that I would wear in the conformist halls of a rigidly disciplined US military academy. It, too, would meet its end in the back of a car after two years of steady use, but by the time that happened, I no longer required a hat to characterize me.
© Ryan Sirmons October
University of Portsmouth - MA Creative Writing

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