The Hat

My mother was the middle child of three. (So is Jennifer. Funny old world.)

My mother’s younger brother, Keith, was born in 1948; their birthdays were only three days apart. This must have resulted in certain complications of gift & party logistics for their parents, Vina & Herschel, but family history is – alas – silent on the matter.

I have a hard time thinking of my parents as children.

Keith joined the US Navy in November of 1965, when he was only seventeen. That seems a bit young for military service. I asked my mother about it, once: “Why do you suppose he enlisted so young? And why did Vina give permission?”

“Why do you think?” she replied.

Various possibilities come to mind, but…nil nisi bonum & all that.

On one visit home, Keith brought presents for his nephews (i.e., Mike and me): genuine US Navy caps, round, heavy white canvas with the brim that could fold up or down. They’re known as ‘Dixie Cup’ hats, also seen on Cracker Jack boxes and Gilligan’s Island.

The Dixie Cup was phased out in 1973, but returned to service shortly thereafter: sailors just didn’t look like sailors without it.

I loved that hat & wore it constantly. I can still remember, forty years later, the feel of the canvas, the smell of it, the way it muffled sounds with the brim down over my ears.

…and then one day in East Gary – I must have been about Sam’s age – I wore it to the local park for an afternoon’s play & came home without it. I never saw it again.

Keith died in 1967. The hat was one of the few mementos of him that we had, and I lost it through carelessness. I still feel bad about that.