We are not necessarily hat people in my family. Except in the summer, of course. I mean, we care about our heads, we just don’t particularly care to adorn them. But, when I noticed that David’s lovely, smooth head was starting to speckle like a quail egg, I hauled out the hats. While the chic beach goers can be seen in broad, elegant straw hats I am most often found under a cricket hat. I have a beautiful straw hat given to me by my friend. Every time I wear it people comment and give me the thumbs up. My friend wears hats year round as needed. In the summer she has a perfectly-proportioned buttermilk colored straw hat with a broad black ribbon around the crown. When we went to Nantucket just before Christmas she bought us both cashmere cloches. My friend looked like a 1920s French gamin in hers. I looked like a penis in mine. No really. Anyway, the cricket hat. You know how they look, right? Bright white and stiff brimmed, pristine and evocative of long lazy afternoons, green grass and Pimm’s Cup.
Mine has seen a few too many summers and way too many washes to be quite so appealing. It has blown off into Pleasant Bay, tumbled, speedily efficient, across the beach into other people’s picnics, been thrown in the back of the Land Rover under three sandy, waxy surfboards and unnumbered wet towels. It’s a bit moldy along the edges and the bold Slazenger name and panther have been unevenly bleached by sun and salt. But, it is a perfect hat for me.
I can’t remember if it was one of the boy’s before they gave up the genteel sport for rugby or if it was purpose bought by David. He has a wonderful habit of going whole-hog into things, nothing by halves for him. If I mention that cricket hats must be very protective in the sun because all the cricket umpires wear them and they play in places like Sri Lanka and India and Barbados and South Africa, then David is on it. Hours later there will be stack of cricket hats in the front hall. At any rate, I now have back up hats to hand and if they are a bit whiter and less worn then that’s a bonus.
Too be honest I’m not that fussed about how I look on the beach. First of all I’m too old to care (overtly) if my bikini is just so. I should probably wear a ‘burk-ini’ at this point but I am of the opinion that a brown tummy beats a white one no matter the age or size. Nevermind.
My husband wears a cricket hat, too (more on that later). Now and then. Mostly he wears a fishing hat with a long, long bill. My sons wear baseball caps, natch, and my daughter just bought herself a spectacularly unattractive sort of surfer/skater/gimme cap. It is made of net in the back, is bright turquoise and black and much to big for her little blonde self. To me she looks like a a pin headed trucker but to her friends she looks “wicked.” I just want to snatch it off and stroke her hair.
Onward. Last night we had a ferocious thunder and lightning storm. The wind blew a chair cushion off the porch and into some roses, flattening them. They’ll recover, they are hardy things, scrambling over a rock wall with fierce determination. The hydrangeas took a beating, too. There was water on the floor under every open window.
In the middle of the night, when the storm hit, rain sprayed in the windows over our bed, an oddly refreshing turn of event for someone who regularly throws the covers off in the throes of a hot flash. But, David realized that we were not experiencing some sort of spa treatment and leapt out of bed to go roll up the car windows. Yes, our cars are that old. He slammed the cricket hat on his head and made a mad dash, naked, across the clam shell drive whispering “Ow, damnit, ouch!” What a sight. The lightning did what lightning does, so scenic! Did I offer to help? I did not. I watched him from the safety of the house and laughed hysterically, and uncharitably.
It reminded me of another time he wore a ridiculous hat around one of our old clunkers: my son’s scrum cap. But, that’s another story.
This morning the fog hung so low over the lawns and gardens I felt that I might still be asleep. I went out to check the dahlias and salvia, the zinnias, larkspur and sweet william, the cosmos and the roses. They all hung their wet heads in near defeat, I ran around shaking rain from the rose blossoms to lighten their load. I was not enormously successful and the grass is now scattered with fallen petals. I need to corral a bunch of little girls to wander around pretending they are fairies or in a wedding or something.
So we protect our heads in various ways around here. And now that I think back, we have a history of ridiculous headgear in useless places. Years ago when William was about four David had a graceful mid-life crisis. Midlife, ha! We were so young it hurts to do the math. At any rate, my husband bought a very old MG convertible. He and William were heading off to collect it in Brighton and drive it back to London on a sunny June morning. I pulled William aside and handed him his bicycle helmet. “Wear this when you guys drive back,” I said. “But don’t make a big deal of it, you know?” He didn’t, but he followed my directions and as they drove onto the M4 William put his helmet on. I can only imagine the conversation went something like this:
David: What is that?!
William: Mommy told me to wear it on the highway in case we had an accident.
David: Oh, for Pete’s sake!
What? I was doing my job.
When Emma was five months old David and I went to Florence with her. She was so portable, not so fragile as in the first few months, not so mobile as in the ones to follow. I won’t tell you about the amazing little crib the hotel set up for her with hand-embroidered sheets and a teeny-tiny pillow. A former monastery, this hotel was a long sweep of Cistercian simplicity and jaw-dropping views. I won’t try to help you imagine the paroxysms of joy every single man and woman went into when they saw this impossibly perfect being in the crook of my arm. Or, how when we were in the Uffizi Gallery the docent advanced on us with such a purposeful eye I nearly put an elbow through a Michelangelo. But, she only wanted to see the baby.
It was sunny but chilly that October so Emma wore a little yellow knitted cap her grandmother made her. She looked both jaunty and floppy at the same time, a satisfyingly baby way to look. We walked and walked around Florence and, it seemed, all of Italy stopped to admire our offspring. The Italians are so wonderfully welcoming to children. They particularly loved Emma’s blonde hair and commented that it looked like dandelion fluff (I had to look up dente di leone) as they plucked off her hat.
One night we went to dinner at a very cool restaurant. It was just making a name for itself because of the exquisite food and lovely atmosphere. It was a small restaurant, maybe ten tables or so and the silverware did not match, the plates were of various subtle patters, the table and chairs an eclectic mix. It was not at all self-conscious or precious, but instead felt as if you’d wandered into someone’s house in the middle of a friendly dinner party. The maitre d’ was a beautiful woman in a narrow dark blue dress that flowed around her like water. I felt increasingly frowsy and milk-stained but, with Emma smuggled in under my sweater, I was not about to pass up this experience. Say what you will but I am convinced that a little Prosecco makes nursing more fun. Still, I was a bit afraid that we’d be found out and sent away before we got to try any of the much talked about food so when the chef came barreling out of the kitchen I was sure we were done for.
“Do you have a baby with you?” he asked.
“Why, yes, yes I do,” I replied.
“Where is the baby?”
I pulled Emma out from under my sweater and she rewarded the chef with a gappy, goofy smile.
“Give her to me,” the chef said with chef-ly authority. He scooped Emma up and removed her beanie. A deep inhale followed. He asked her name.
“I must bring Emma to the kitchen so that everyone can smell her head,” he said.
I knew exactly what he meant about a baby’s head but, who was this guy, really? So I nodded and gave my baby away. He bundled a smiling Emma into his arms.
“You will eat what I send out and the baby will return when you are finished,” he said before sweeping back into the kitchen.
David and I looked at each other for a moment. Then we shrugged and smiled as goofily as Emma. Her little yellow hat sat in my salad plate. I swept it aside and reached for the bread.
As I think of David running around like mad in the dark, in the rain, in the buff with his cricket hat on his head, I wonder what he thought he was protecting and I laugh.
Sometimes hats are just silly.