The last thing I could do for my father was to place the old tweed cap on his head as his body was wheeled out of the house. Once the cap had sat snug on his head, but now it fell down over his nose. Not that it mattered now. The ravage of cancer had shed his body away to nothing. ‘He can’t go without his hat,’ I said.
I went back into the house and wandered into his bedroom. The bedclothes were still rumpled. It was strange to think that he would never sleep there again. Before I knew what I was doing I pulled all his hats off the shelf and placed them in a row on the bed. The Akubra which he wore on trips to the Northern Territory, the old disheveled work hat, and a pristine Stetson.
These were the hats of my childhood. The ones I would try on. The ones I would hide to get sweet revenge. The ones as a teenager I would threaten to crush if I didn’t get my own way.
He was of the old school. Never left the house without his hat and always took it off when he went indoors. He was the old man who lifted his hat to a woman as they walked past. He belonged to the old days when hats were not just head warmers but a sign of wealth, status and character.
The Stetson had a small bird feather sticking to the hat band. I picked up the hat and held it up to my face. It smelled of expensive material, mustiness, and Dad. There were years of sweat, hard work and harsh words under that hat. It was perched on his head in old black and white photos taken at the Royal Aero Club, at parties in Sydney, and on a New York street with a mysterious blonde woman on his arm.
As a child, I curled up on the couch with him and watched The Untouchables and Perry Mason and noted that most of the men wore hats like dad. They were clever and witty and stoic. Lawbreakers and rule breakers and everything in between. He was like Eliot Ness; untouchable and nothing would ever get the better of him.
Dad stopped wearing the Stetson as he got older and graduated to floppy old khaki hats in summer and tweed caps in winter. As a farmer, he wore the khaki hat with a fly net attached to ward off those “bloody blowflies”. That hat is long gone, thrown out with a pile of old clothes, but I have kept the fly net. It is in a box labelled “Dad’s Things” a collection of photos, letters and stuff.
Now, almost three decades on, the hats sit on a top shelf. I don’t take them down much —it’s just a comfort to know that they are there.