April 2018

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Gimme that Hat

My partner Ann is mostly cheerful, but on our recent honeymoon to Puerta Escondida, Oaxaca, Mexico, she was cranky about my hat.

On this first international trip since brain surgery almost six years ago, I took  a sombrero that I bought before my brain tumors, when we traveled internationally once or twice a year.

I love this hat because it’s an adult sombrero, but it fits my child-sized head. (Now with my brain tumors gone, my head must be even smaller than it used to be.)
My sombrero also shades my upper body in the bright Mexican sun, something especially important to me because I had a lifetime of radiation to zap my second tumor, and I really can’t get more sun, even though I love its heat. (I love it when my skin is as warm as a rock warmed in the sun.)

My sombrero isn’t like one of those huge, pointed, red, green and white monstrosities worn by tourists who also wear t-shirts with frogs who love beer.

It’s a classy straw, woven in hatches, with a rounded and only slightly dimpled dome for my head. It’s brim is wide enough to shade me but not so wide that I'm a danger to anyone walking by. A cheerfully feminine half-inch blue and white band fancifies the rim. I love this hat.

My Granddaddy Matthews loved his hats, too.

I remember a photo of my grandfather (in his hat) and my grandmother before they were married and had kids and mortgages and grew obese and habitually cranky with one another.

Granddaddy’s standing a little askew, his hands in his pockets and his skinny body swaying easily towards my Grandmom, also thin. Both look at the camera and both seem to flirt with one another and the camera. Granddaddy’s head tilts affectionately towards Grandmom, and atop Granddaddy’s head is a hat perched jauntily to the side, like Humphrey Bogart’s hats were. Granddaddy’s big ears stick out from under that hat, big ears that he would eventually grown into but had not yet.

Granddaddy almost always wore a hat. My mother tells the story of the time when she was a child, and the family was going on vacation. Granddaddy and Grandmom were in the front seat with their five kids in the back. Granddaddy, who was driving, kept turning around to say, "Where's my hat?" or, "Don't sit on my hat." As they approached a bridge, my exasperated grandmother finally said, "Gimme that hat," and she threw it out the window.

I have to admit that my hat was unnecessary and a little troublesome to keep up with.

When we entered the lovely Casa Loma's front door, we faced an orange wall of twelve straw sombreros. Ann looked at me and down at the sombrero in my hand and rolled her eyes.

Though wearing the sombrero in the sun was a must, wearing it in the taxi on the way to the beach made getting out of the cab even more of a challenge than usual. I would slide to the end of the car seat when the cabbie opened my door, and turn my feet in the exiting direction. Then I would pull my heavy backpack on, arms through the straps, and clasp the bright orange chest strap. Then, sombrero on head, I would squirm upwards, knocking first my sombrero and then my backpack against the car’s hood while my cane flailed forward, and I squirmed up and out.

The sombrero was also a pain when I didn’t need it, like in the art museum or through the airport. Because it inhibited my stride when I carried it in my hand, I often tied it to my belt loop or to my suitcase, but it got in the way there, too, so Ann often ended up carrying it. She grimaced a little each time.

Though the sombrero was sometimes a pain, I was glad to have it with me as my talisman because, though I was never nervous about travel before my tumors, I had been nervous about traveling this time. I wondered if I could do it.

The hat helped me remember that though my body is significantly different than it was before brain surgery, I am still in my core an adventurer. It reminded me of travels in my pre-brain tumor days, so I liked having it around—sort of like Linus and his blanket or Sister Jen (when she was small) and her pacifier.

I suspect the sense of security, the sense of myself as a person who travels, was really more important than the shade the sombrero provided.

Once Ann spotted a guy in the airport wearing his giant red, green and white sombrero, she rediscovered her sense of humor and started to laugh saying, “I guess it could be worse.”

I think Ann’s softening toward my sombrero, but next time I’ll leave it behind, just in case she should channel my grandmother: “Gimme that hat,” and then throw my past out the window. (She wouldn't really do that.)

I would watch this symbol of my bygone era float gracefully to the river and drift for a moment on the surface. I would wave sadly as that part of my life sank slowly, quietly into the darkness.

For the most part, I have surrendered the things of my past, as the poet Max Ehrmann instructs me to do in “Desiderata.”

Sometimes, however, I yearn for my earlier opportunities: I ache to travel the back roads where lands and languages are unknown to me. I want so much to hike narrow mountain paths, leading to flower-strewn vistas. I miss the possibility of the moment of astonishing quiet as I skied cross-country through heavy snows and deep woods, a red fox running along beside me like my spirit guide.
But for the beaches I still visit, for the Mexicans who make an effort to understand my halting Spanish, for Ann and my amigos who help me travel, I am grateful.
Bueno. Gracias.  



  1. Ahh, Mary. You made me tear up...again! Such a lovely post. It was an absolute joy to travel with you and Ann (and the damn hat). Her's to many more adventures!


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