“Would you like me to wash your ball hat?” Brenda cheerfully asked me the other day.
“Sure, but please be careful,” I replied. “I know you’re cautious, but accidents do happen.”
The hat needed a good washing. It still had the dust of leaves from fall under the bill, little blotches of soot from campfires across the top, and a little dash of salt from the recent winter on the sides for good measure.
I was tired and sitting in my recliner by the fire when I handed her the hat. We had traveled to Kentucky and back over the weekend to pick up grandson Jack, and the driving had caught up with me.
The fatigue, the melancholy mood and the fire evidently came together at just the right time, and for some reason, my mind began to focus on the ball hat.
I laid my head back and allowed my mind to drift.
One fall morning 20 years ago, I was traveling somewhere between Marysville and Bellefontaine on SR 33. I had stopped for gas and went inside the truck stop to stretch my legs. I saw a rack of cheap hats, ball hats, cowboy hats, straw hats and an assortment of other types on a rotating display post.
I wasn’t in the market for a ball hat, but have always had difficulty finding a hat that fits me the way I like it. This particular hat was different. It was soft, well rounded and framed my face well. It was comfortable.
I liked the way it looked on me, and the best part of all, it was only $4.99.
As I relaxed in the recliner, I began to the think about all the adventures the hat and I had shared since we first met in Bellefontaine.
The dark blue Cincinnati Bengals hat with the orange tiger on the front has been my constant companion for the last 20 years, and has shared many adventures with me as we have traveled countless miles together across the nation.
My wife Brenda and I were living in Staunton, Va. when I first brought it home. “I really like that hat on you,” she said.
I began to wear it everywhere I went.
It came along to Iowa a few years ago when Brenda and I visited the land of John Wayne in the tiny town of Winterset, along with all the other pilgrims there for the museum dedication.
Our next stop was back east, at the battlefields of Gettysburg, in the jagged hills of Pennsylvania.
We wandered out of the historical park and on to the antique malls of Chambersburg. We picnicked under the trees in Caledonia State Park and walked the Appalachian Trail along a clear stream that led us to a gentle waterfall cascading over the rocks and limbs.
The hat has been my good friend over the years. We shared some of the happiest times of our lives in Staunton, watching the Staunton Braves play at John Moxie Stadium, or joining our friends, Jackie and Larry, at Wrights Dairy Rite for a double burger and fries.
I threw on my ball hat the morning I rushed out the door to the hospital after hearing the news that Brenda had struck a guardrail on Interstate 64 on a snowy, cold morning on her way to work.
The hat was on the top of my head when we sat in the sweet breeze of the cool evening at Gypsy Hill Park and watched the Stonewall Jackson Brigade Band perform every Monday night at seven.
The last thing I did the morning we moved from Staunton was put the hat on, and head south on Interstate 81 toward Nashville. There were tears in our eyes as we said goodbye to the place that had been our loving home for 12 years.
The hat was on my head when Brenda and I walked in downtown Nashville on Friday nights visiting the honky-tonks and bars playing classic country music.
The hat was with me when we sat at the bedsides of my brothers, Jim and Jack, and brother-in-law Dick, watching as they slowly closed their eyes and left us.
I wore my hat to the local hospitals during Brenda’s health scares, and sat it alongside the bed as we waited and prayed.
Grandson Jack and I took a trip on Amtrak last summer through the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains of Virginia. Of course, I wore my favorite hat as we cherished our time together.
“Here, try this on,” Brenda said, as she gently shook me awake and handed me the freshly cleaned hat.
“Thank you,” I said. “It sure looks good. We have been through a lot together, my hat and me.”
“It may be beginning to show its age and is a little worn around the edges, but I don’t know what I would do without it,” she said with a sigh.
“Me either,” I said, knowing the sweeter, deeper meaning of her words. “Me either.”
Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner.