Of course, he would have called them “caps,” but what he kept on the rack in the hallway were, to me, always “hats.” They were arrayed on one of those crisscrossed wooden hat racks that accordioned in and out, forming a series of wooden diamonds, which was almost invisible against the dark wooden paneling of the hallway.
When I was five, I went with my mom and her parents on a road trip to Arkansas to check on some land my grandfather owned. Somewhere in East Texas (maybe Carthage, maybe Center, maybe Tyler, maybe somewhere along the road at a random gas station) my grandfather and I bought matching hats. They were strange hats, shaped like the baseball caps worn by Willie Stargell’s Pittsburgh Pirates of the mid-seventies, but woven out of a material like dried palm leaves. My grandfather and I wore them proudly the whole trip. Then, when my mom and I got home, I hung mine up on the rack in the hallway, next to all my dad’s hats. After my grandfather died, my dad wound up with his hat. He wore it all the time and even hung it on the peg right next to mine. But I don’t remember us ever wearing them at the same time.
When I was seven or eight—I had to be under 10 because my grandfather was still alive—my dad was with us in Hemphill, Texas, at my mother’s parents’ house. Dad didn’t always go up there with my mom and me, but I don’t ever remember a time when Mom went alone and he and I stayed behind in Orange. Anyway, in Hemphill, at my grandparent’s house, we all slept in the back room. There was no bedside table, just two huge beds sandwiching a smaller, lower one in the middle. To keep his things together, my dad tied his watch up in the cord that hung down from the blinds on his side of the bed. But, there, on the floor, were his wallet and keys and change, safely ensconced inside his upturned hat.
When I was 35 and had begun teaching at The Kinkaid School in Houston, I struggled to buy my dad a Father’s Day gift that wasn’t a bottle of Old Spice or a plaid short-sleeved shirt with a pocket. That year, I bought him a Kinkaid hat. It was half-price at the school bookstore. It was white with two thin stripes of color, purple and gold, across the front. But it didn’t just have the school name embroidered across the front. No, it said “Kinkaid Football.” But, I bought it anyway. Dad loved the hat, wore it until the bill turned yellow from sweat, and always kept it hanging on the far right end of the hat rack, where it was handiest.
My dad is gone now, and my hat collection now hangs on the back of the mudroom door in my own house, on my own hat rack, this one white metal. There are hats from Hawaii, hats celebrating the Astros, the Texans, and the Longhorns, and a Washington and Lee Law hat—all of them forming a record of my life, rendered in cotton canvas. And whenever I’m headed out the back door I grab a hat, remembering how my dad never left home without one.
And as I put mine on, he’s right there, whispering in my ear: “You know those are caps, right?”