Papa was a rancher. He worked with horses. He was proud
of the way he dressed. He always wore clean clothes, even when he worked. That
is very difficult for a rancher who works outside on a horse farm.
He often said to me, "Son, you may not be able to buy the best clothes, but
always keep those you have clean. That is the important thing." Papa did what he said. His clothes were never dirty like those of most of
the other ranchers I knew.
Papa never worked outside without a hat. He always wore the same kind of hat. It was a cowboy hat, a large black hat of
He never pushed the hat to one side of his head, but wore it straight. And he did
not push the top of the hat down like most cowboys do. He wore his hat full and
high. I think he wanted to look taller than he really was.
Papa had two hats. One was his Sunday hat, the other was his everyday hat. When
his Sunday hat got old, he wore it every day and then bought a new Sunday hat.
He wore his Sunday hat only to church, or on holidays, or when he visited the
city. Most of the time he kept his Sunday hat in a special box. He hid it so we
could not find it.
Papa loved his hats, and he cared for them in a special way. He never threw them
down on a chair – someone might sit on them.
He even had a special place for his everyday hat. As soon as he came into the
house from work, he put his hat on a nail behind the kitchen door.
Mama was very careful of Papa's hat. She was proud of the way he looked
when he worked, or when he wore his Sunday hat and his best clothes. She was
not permitted to touch his Sunday hat.
Then something happened. Maybe it was the heat of the long summer. Maybe
Mama read about hats in a magazine or book. But in some way she got the idea
that Papa should not wear a heavy wool cowboy hat in the hot weather. She began
to believe that Papa would lose his hair if he did. Mama began to worry more
about Papa's hair than about his hats.
Perhaps it was Uncle George that made Mama worry about Papa's hair. Uncle George
had no hair. His head was as smooth as an egg. But Papa had thick black hair
that shone like silk. It would be terrible if Papa lost his hair because he wore
a heavy, wool, cowboy hat. So, Mama began to worry. She began to watch Papa carefully as he worked in
the hot fields under his tall heavy hat. She saw how wet his hair was when he
came into the house.
Mama began to talk about hats.
"Papa", she said one day. "Why don't you throw that old wool hat away and get a
nice cool straw hat?"
"What?", Papa said. "Me wear a straw hat! I would never let my horses see me in
a straw hat!"
"Horses", Mama answered. "What have horses to do with a straw hat? Animals don't
care what kind of hat you wear!"
"Mine do", Papa said. "My horses recognize me because I always wear the same hat,
and they like the cowboy hats best of all. Anyway", he said, "I would not be seen
dead in a straw hat!"
Mama talked and talked, but she could not change Papa's mind. They talked about
hats all summer long. At last Mama tried to frighten Papa to get him to wear
a straw hat.
"Papa", she said, "just look at most of the ranchers we know. All of them wear
heavy wool cowboy hats in the summer, and most of them have lost their hair".
Papa laughed at Mama. He laughed so hard the tears ran down his face and his
stomach hurt. But his laughing did not stop Mama. She told him about Jim Berry who lost his hair about two years ago. Papa, a little angry, answered: "It was not a cowboy hat that made Jim Berry
lose his hair. It was his wife always talking about hats and not giving him any
peace and quiet".
Mama said nothing. She stopped talking about hats. I wondered what was going to
happen. Then one day Mama got up earlier than usual. She marched to the kitchen
and made breakfast. She had a very serious look on her face. She did not say a
word. She made more noise than usual. She put the dishes down so hard I
thought they would break.
Suddenly, She got in the car and drove toward the city. She did not tell us why
she was going. Later she came home with a straw hat. She still looked very
There had not been much rain that year. It was a bad year for ranchers. We had
little money. But it was the year for Papa to buy a new cowboy hat. Mama knew
this. She also thought that if she spent the money for a straw hat, Papa would not
spend any money to buy a cowboy hat.
Mama was right. When Papa saw the straw hat his face got red. He said nothing.
He pulled the straw hat down over his head until it hid his eyes. He Iooked
very funny. I wanted to laugh but I did not. I was afraid to because Papa was so
I remember how quiet he was as he marched out of the house.
I followed him that day. He was going to train the wild horses again. I loved
to watch him work. He had gotten the horses earlier in the year but they were
still half-wild, half-trained.
Papa slowly walked toward the field where the horses were eating grass. He was a
good rancher because he was gentle with horses, never cruel to them. He had
given names to all the horses. He always called to them when he first saw them in the
morning. He talked softly to them so they would not be afraid. Sometimes the
horses walked up to him when he called their names.
They knew his cowboy hat, which he wore everyday. They did not feel safe
near any other person.
I followed Papa as he walked toward the field calling their names. At first, the
horses continued to eat. But as Papa got closer the horses looked up at him.
Suddenly, they jumped high into the air, raising their front feet. Then, they
began to run around, wildly. They screamed the way frightened horses do. One
horse kicked the hay wagon over. All of them ran around and around in the field
and then raced toward the barn where they slept.
I never heard such a noise. Papa began to shout "Whoa boys, steady boys steady". But there was nothing he could do.
He marched toward the house. Inside the barn the frightened horses
screamed and kicked hard against the walls of the barn.
Mama came running out of the house. She stood near the door waiting for Papa.
She held her hands against her heart.
"What is it Papa... what is it?"
Papa did not answer. She held the door open and he marched into the house. Mama
I went in after them to see what was going to happen. Papa walked straight to
the stove in the kitchen. He opened the top of the stove, pulled the straw hat
off his head and pushed it deep down into the fire.
At last, he turned to Mama and looked at her in a way that even frightened me.
I never heard Papa so angry. He shouted and shouted all sorts of new words. At
last, his anger was gone. Then he said in a soft, but firm voice, "Now listen to
me, Mama. Understand this! I will never wear a straw hat, or any other kind of
hat my horses do not like!"
Then he put on his Sunday cowboy hat and walked out of the house.
It was almost midnight when the noise died away and the animals became quiet.
The next day, Papa fixed all the broken wood in the walls of the barn.
I never heard Mama talk any more about hats. Perhaps that is why when Papa died,
many years later, there was a round spot on the top of his head where there was