I never remember my grandfather Rufus in public without a straw hat. As a bald man, it was an essential part of his wardrobe as he went out into the blistering, radiant sunshine of the deep south. For him, it was always an off-white straw hat. I never remember him in a dark hat. Then again, in the deep south, with the heat and sun bearing down most of the year, perhaps straw, as long as it was winter white, passed muster year round. Unlike my grandfather, for the last few years my fall and winter look includes felt fedoras. The Midwest cold and wind require it. Still, my summer haberdashery is missing my grandfather’s straw look. Straw was an essential addition this year.
I bought a straw hat on the island of Mykonos this summer. While the location of the purchase may be a bit exotic, to find the perfect straw fedora was a essential goal of summer. What can I say; I happened to be in the Greek isles and there it was.
Many times I imagined the hat. Something distinctive but not as stiff and formal as grandpa’s. I wanted a strong textured hat with a broad brim and a distinctive band. As I turned the corner on the very narrow stone paved street of Mykonos with its white-washed buildings with brightly colored trim and terra cotta roofs pressing on me, I was instantly smitten. There, on the street vendor’s rack, were two, one with a black band and one with a deep, inky blue band. They were strong, durable hats, yet still a bit floppy. The hat lady thought I wanted the black band (more conventional I suppose). “No,” I objected, “I want the inky blue one, it will always remind me of the Aegean.” I asked for her best price. She stumbled a bit and then gave me a few euros off. I was satisfied (I would have paid full price; this was THE hat). My new hat made me smile and remember fondly my grandfather, the man after whom I am named. It was a perfect!
While walking about Knossos on Crete the next day, I saw a silhouette on one of the ancient walls. To my surprise and joy, it was not my shadow; instead, I say the shadow of my grandfather, hat and all, looking back at me. Walking about the ruins of this Bronze Age civilization, imaging the peoples who walked those paths 3500 years ago, it was a joy to realize my grandfather was walking with me. If I had known it only took a hat, I would have bought one long ago. On the other hand, maybe it was not just any old hat. Maybe it was this hat waiting for me to find it on an island in the Aegean.
Back in the sunny Midwest, his shadow still walks with me. Grandpa is 117 years old this year. I am pleased to report his shadow still has a spring in its step.