Strange the things we remember. Today, I carry around memories of my father that stem from my vision as a child in the backseat of a Cutlass Supreme. lmr
He knew how to wear a hat.
Trust me... that’s not always an easy (hat-) trick, when you’re a Black man, trying *not* to look like a pimp, a mack, a dandy, a fop or a player. My father was neither of those, yet he could rock a mean hat. Some cats just have it like that instinctively.
My father possessed that uniquely smooth and utterly rare gift of slipping on a chapeau and becoming this cool and mysteriously enigmatic character. Though barely 5’8, he always stood taller in his fedora. It seemed as if his posture changed and he became this whole other Larger Being… at least, in my eyes.
I was discussing this phenom with my mom yesterday, as we were approaching yet another birthday without his presence. Because his absence remains very much a FELT experience, she seemed determined to remember to be sad. And while I could only validate that emotion for her, an extended appointment with sadness was not placed upon my schedule. Instead, I spoke of a certain bronze-colored Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme; how my father would take the family for long rides on summer Sunday afternoons, and how, from the backseat, in his fedora, he resembled some quietly Elegant Black King to my eyes.
When he died there inside that ER, a nurse brought his possessions into the waiting room. Perhaps she thought it would be too much for my mother to handle, so she signaled me into a quiet corner and she handed me his gold retirement watch, and his wedding band.
I tried like hell not to breakdown, fall to my knees, and weep like some little suddenly fatherless child, especially, there, in that setting. Although my brother publicly, lost it, I'd somehow retained my stoic older bother composure. It was a very strange and rainy December day. It felt even stranger to me, holding those articles in my hand, as if the were supposed to somehow now represent this man I’d fondly called, “Da.”
A day or so after this, in a quieter, less hectic moment, I presented those articles to my mother. I hugged her tightly and for the longest time. Mind you, I still hadn’t cried, but I’d been meaning to. Curiously, that time would come much later.
After the funeral and after all the guests, after the food was consumed, and the stories were told, and the emotions displayed, after the hubbub and the shows of sympathy, when everything sat quietly in its own haunted space, my mother asked if wanted anything of my father’s.
I thought for a minute about the car (which never was my style) and the clothes (ditto, and were way too small), and finally, I said,
“You know that black fedora? The one he wore back in the day when he’d take us on those Sunday drives? I think I’d like to have that hat.”
Maybe it seemed like a peculiarly atypical request. But then, that was just me, being me. I was always her ‘strange poet son,’ and so she just shrugged, went into the closet they’d shared for over 35 years, fetched that hat, and she handed it to me.
I’ve placed it upon the top shelf in my closet. I hardly ever wear it. Over the years, I’ve thought of it as a kind of trophy to the modesty of his life, his quiet elegance; his one slice of mysterious cool, and his subtle sense of royalty.
And so, on his birth anniversary, in lieu of tears or flowers on a grave site, and instead of episodes in sadness, I've slipped on that black fedora, and tried like hell to mirror my father’s style-- not pimp, not mack, not player, not fop, not dandy.
You know, just a Black man, in a black chapeau, with a smooth gift for becoming a cool and mysteriously enigmatic character.
That’s it. That’s all.
Wishing a Very Happy Birthday in Heaven to YOU, Da.
copyright © 2016 by L.M. Ross
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