One might be tempted to say, “C’mon, it’s just a hat…”
Okay, yes, it is just a hat. But as with many things in my life, it is more than that.
I tend to be sentimental and get attached to certain belongings. Many of these are keepsakes with a lot of mnemonic value, clothes and accessories with a hard-won comfortable fit, or items that otherwise represent a fond or meaningful facet of my identity. I wrote about one or two of these items in previous entries, but for example…
- My cowboy boots…once they were my almost only choice of footwear, no matter the place or occasion (with exception to the beach or hiking). I resoled them at least twice when it was cheaper or easier to buy a new pair (and my cobbler wasn’t shy of telling me as much). Now a collection of frayed edges, dried out leather, musty inside lining, and worn-down heels – they would probably fall apart if I put them on. I haven’t worn them in years due to their deterioration and preference for more practical and comfortable footwear (not to mention one or two people asking if I actually owned any other shoes), yet they sit in my closet. Why won’t I toss them out? Back in my early twenties, they were a gift from my paternal grandmother, who planned the whole mission of taking me out to buy them weeks ahead of a family visit. For whatever reason, she wanted me to look more like a cowboy and boots were at the top of the list. Her regret was she didn’t buy me a cowboy hat…which is just as well since I’m definitely not a “hat guy.”1 In what might be one of the biggest ass country clothing shops I ever walked through (not that I frequent many to begin with), I mercilessly teased Grandma, wandering aisle after aisle of boots, picking the most obnoxious or tacky styles to elicit gasps and looks of fear from her. The highlight was a tall, purple and black-and-white snakeskin adorned pair that nearly gave her a heart attack. Eventually, I set eyes on the plain, brown pair that currently collects dust in perpetual dark of my bedroom closet.2
- A large wooden cutting board…it’s cracked and stained from decades of use, and suffered from more than a few of my successful and/or more questionable attempts at cooking. There’s nothing decorative or special about it, save that it was my maternal grandmother’s. Like my Mom, my Grandma was an amazing cook, and in classic Italian tradition, my mother will tell you that she can’t make her dishes taste like hers.3 It’s larger than the other two cutting boards I use, so it usually sits on the sidelines until I need to cut up a large, roasted piece of meat or big pile of veggies, but I’ll never lose that ever-so-well-used piece of wood.
- My grey wool rollneck sweater…I received my oldest piece of clothing as a Christmas present when I was in college. It’s what I consider my definitive “artist” look and I feel a little like a crunchy granola hippie whenever I put it on. I don’t know how it’s held up over the years, but it’s warm, soft and one of the most comfortable pieces of clothing I own. It bundled me up on frigid days walking across Virginia Tech’s Drill Field and as I cheered the Hokies to many a touchdown at Lane Stadium. Now, I pull it out on the coldest Winter days. There’s not much more to it than that, but one of my hopes is I pass this sweater down to my daughter someday.
I could spend a large chunk of time and energy assessing all of my belongings and their appreciative sentimental value, but that would be a long list that I won’t bore anyone with in this blog. I’ll sum it all up by saying that I while I may not own things that are worth much money, they’re valuable to me on a very personal level. Some connect to my past, some to relatives here and gone, and friends I hold dear or remember fondly. To me, something has true value for its connection to someone or something special in your past. And as one of the key values in my life, I value time and memories far more than money.
But back to the hat…
My attachment to it began because it fit well on my head, wasn’t obnoxious or garish like some sports teams’ hats, and it dealt with the rigors of travel well enough. It survived hikes, river tubing expeditions and bike rides. It was my handy back-up on motorcycle trips, hiding inside my riding jacket or a backpack until I needed to cover up my “helmet hair.” It survived the tropical heat of Hawaii and the icy chill of Iceland, so I like to claim the hat has kinda/sorta been from one side of the planet to the other. The faded blue canvas has tasted the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. I’ve adorned it with dust and dirt from North America and Europe. And like my trusty messenger bag, it’s always one of the first items I pack before a journey.
Sadly, it has suffered from one too many washes, and too late I realize that it’s better to let hats air dry rather than beating the Hell out them in the dryer. Now, it’s ripped, worn out to the point of unravelling, and about to become unwearable. There are far more days of its usefulness behind than there are ahead, and inevitable milestone of “retirement” is looming on the horizon. I retired a pair of hiking boots several years ago that held similar esteem. The insides and soles were flat and worn, usually leaving my feet hurting more than if I walked around barefoot, but they were with me on some fun adventures. Like them, this abused hat saw and experienced a lot in its time. It’s outlived multiple relationships, outlasted more than a few jobs, and I even lost it only to turn up a year or two later.
What makes us hang onto these kinds of things, even when they far out live their usefulness? Is it the comfort and security of familiarity? Are they a mature extension of cherished toys and security blankets from when we were children?4 Or are they merely preferred tools or accessories that won out over others?
The best journeys are often shared – no matter if they’re someone new, or an old friend or member of the family. The bittersweet reality of any adventure is your travel companions must eventually depart onto diverging roads or their own destinations. Tried and true items such as a trusty bag, worn in shoes or favorite hat are no different. Travel allows us to experience far more than what we know or are accustomed to, even if as we insist on taking small pieces of the familiar with us. They act as anchors to our sense of self and identity, and help us feel more secure when exploring the new and unknown.
So, if you see a fellow traveler accidentally leave something behind, be sure to let them know. It could be another old hat, or it might be the most important thing on their journey.
1 That is, except for baseball caps which I only wear for their practical sun protection. Otherwise, I can count on one hand the number of hats I own and hat styles that MIGHT look good on me (and that’s being painfully generous on my part). This was a bit of a personal disappointment since I spent my teen years dreaming of being Indiana Jones and traveling the world in a fedora.
2 The only other thing of note from this trip was my grandmother trying to play cupid with the cashier, but she wasn’t comfortable with the woman’s admittance of her ongoing divorce or tattoo collection. My grandmother passed away never knowing I have two tattoos…and I’m not sure what she’d think if she ever found out about them.
3 I make the same claims in regard to my mother’s own cooking…I don’t think I’ll ever make my Sunday Gravy taste like hers.
4 I managed to hang onto a few childhood keepsakes, but there are several others I desperately wish were still in my possession, including a stuffed puppy dog doll, and a Batman costume my mother made from scratch under my heavily detail-oriented and no doubt infuriating direction.