I was never that much of a hat person.
But thanks to the UV deluxe sunshine in New Zealand, and the hole it already burned in my head, I tend to wear a hat when I am outside.
Sometimes it’s a baseball cap. But I prefer my straw fedora. I think maybe I like wearing it because my Grandpa wore one, and he looked pretty cool when he did it.
Not “I am Clark Gable” kind of cool. Just “I am an old guy and I know that, deep down, you know I look cool in this hat.”
Gramps looked especially cool when he was wearing his hat and tooling down Berry Road in his ’57 Chevy with the awesome fins. Man, that car was to die for.
Gramps took care of everything he owned, because he was incredibly gifted with his hands and because he didn’t have enough money to buy things twice.
I hated it when Gramps traded in his ’57 Chevy for a clunky old white car unworthy of further description. He made the trade when I was still a kid in junior high. I know it broke his heart because he loved that car.
But it was starting to burn oil and money. He knew he couldn’t pay a mechanic to fix it and, because he was near 70 by then, he knew he couldn’t spend days or weeks under the car or half-buried in the big 327 engine.
After he’d done the car deal, I think he had second thoughts, not so much about trading down, but about getting cheated on the price; probably a thought my Dad put into his head. In any case, Gramps quickly let it go and proceeded to make his new, clunky white car look like new.
When I got old enough to drive, I tried to visit Gramps every now and again. It’s not like we had long and drawn out philosophical discussions. We never discussed why my Dad drank. That was what it was.
I just liked being in Gramps’ company. I’ve written before about when I was really small spending time in his garage workshop, playing with tools and the hundreds of blank keys that he still had from his days as a locksmith and gunsmith. I loved the sounds and smells of that garage, and the calm certainty that it offered.
There were never any dramas in Gramps’ garage; there was just projects getting done, slowly, calmly, right. Just guy stuff.
After dinner, Gramps would sit in his recliner in front of the water cooler or, later, the small air conditioning unit. And then, for a little while, he’d “pay the electric man” and we’d both enjoy the cool breeze.
Usually he’d let his beloved parakeet out of the cage and talk to it for a good, long time as it perched on his finger. Then the little green bird would kiss him gently on the nose. Gramps would ask if I wanted to hold it. I did, of course. And every time that damn bird would bite my finger, which tickled Gramps, at least a little bit.
Those were good days.
Sadly, I don’t think Gramps ever got to watch me play my high school football at Owen’s Stadium. I think by then he was pretty sick with cancer. But I know he was glued to the radio when we played.
He was proud to see me in my Norman High letter jacket. I’m pretty sure he hated my post-football long hair, but I don’t recall him ever saying a thing about it.
But he did tell me things that I will never forget.
I bet he told me 1,000 times how important it was to “get an education.” He knew how hard it was to make a living with your hands, and he knew I would have to earn a living with my mind, being one short in the hand department.
Gramps’ parents were full-blooded Indians (Potawatomi and Sac and Fox) and they really did bring him to Oklahoma as a baby in a covered wagon. Because of his humble beginnings, Gramps would never have envisioned going to university himself. But he passionately wanted his grand kids to go to university. And most of us did.
Gramps didn’t talk to me much about religion, but that wasn’t because he was shy about his Protestant faith. It was because he knew my heart was too hard at that time to really listen, and he did not want me to turn away. But there was never a question about his faith or his authority.
Gramps always prayed a heartfelt “grace” at dinner, regardless of where we were. And when Gramps prayed at noisy family gatherings, you could have heard a pin drop. I still remember his complete and utter focus when he prayed. I knew he was talking directly to God, right from his heart, for all of us.
Despite the hardness of my heart, for my High School graduation Gramps and Grandma Bertha gave me a New Testament & Psalms, “red letter edition”, with my full name embossed in gold capital letters on the front cover.
When I’ve traveled on business, I’ve always carried it in my suitcase. And I’ve often read the handwritten inscription:
“May 12 — 1974. Dear Grandson — We hope you will accept this Bible in the spirit in which it is given, and you will read from its pages often. We pray it will be your guide through life. We love you very much. Grampa and Grandma.”
That book is more precious to me than any book I own.
And what about my hat?
On its own, it’s not that big a deal. But because it reminds me of Gramps, and his hat, it’s pretty special to me.
In fact, you just can’t put a price on it.
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