Every year our town celebrates the 4th of July with a Fireman’s Festival. As it approaches, I find myself thinking a lot about our family and our grandson Zach, in particular, who we lost two years ago over this weekend. My daughter Kate, who teaches college English, meets often with a group of friends who share ideas and creative writing prompts. A few weeks ago their prompt was to write a piece entitled “The Hat.” That assignment inspired Kate to write this poem that captures some of the qualities we loved about Zach and tells some of what he meant to all of us. We know how much he treasured time with his family. He never missed a family event, and we’re grateful for every moment and memory we had with him.
Zach made the hat. He didn’t braid its straw bands
or bend its pre-scuffed cowboy brim, but he gave
the hat personality with his blue eyes
and sudden grin. His strong shoulders made
the hat seem plausible to us, a family
of Ohioans gathered at the beach.
The next to buy the hat was Payton, who’d spent
the first seventeen years of his life doing much
of what Zach was doing, and he looked
at home in it too. Soon, like locusts, our family
had scoured the shops and almost every hour,
a new hat was passed around and tried
experimentally on a new blonde head.
I purchased mine at the peak of the run. I reckoned—
because “reckoning” became something you could do
in the hat—there was enough vacation left
to justify the investment. It wasn’t the type
of hat that I would wear ever again,
but once I donned its shady depths I felt
at peace, peering out with a two-drink start
on the world.
At one point, some truth-teller
in the family ventured, you know these hats are actually
kind of ugly, and no one disagreed.
But that didn’t stop us from wearing them
for the family picture of twenty-some
half-tanned Midwesterners, sun drunk
in white sand, cheap hats looking almost
gold against the sea.