All things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all
things that lapse and change and come again upon
the earth–these things will always be the same, for
they come up from the earth that never changes, they
go back into the earth that lasts forever.
I kept telling the people at work, all through the fall and early winter. My coworkers, and my builders and random customers. It’s been too nice. It can’t last. There will come a storm. And tons and tons of snow. That’s gonna happen. But you know what? And I paused dramatically, to let it sink in to whoever I was talking to, often some poor listener who was trapped, or at least felt obligated to pretend to be paying attention. You know what? I’m good with that, good with whatever comes. When you look at the last couple of years, winter came real early. And regardless of what happens this winter, it’s gonna be shorter than the last few. And I’m good with that, I’m good with whatever comes.
It had been a real wuss so far, the winter. I mean, not that I got anything against that. I love wussy winters, where it stays mostly mild. And where you don’t get two or three feet of snow, all at once. I love to drive to work not fighting messy roads. I love to schedule my trucks at work, and know that the drivers will have safe, dry roads to travel on.
All through November and then December, it was balmy weather all the way through. Scary warm, almost. I think on Christmas Day, it was in the sixties around here. I sure wasn’t fretting about it, but I thought. It has to at least get cold enough to kill the bugs in the ground. Otherwise, there’ll be trouble next spring. And next summer. That happened a few years back, when it never really froze deep. That next summer, the stink bugs came crawling out in full force. They were everywhere, inside and out. And stank up the place, everywhere, too. They even got into Big Blue, somehow, and pested me while I was driving. Didn’t matter if you kept the windows closed, and all sealed off. They got in, somehow. That happened more than a few times. I blame it on mild winter weather.
And the New Year came sliding right in. Still nothing cold to speak of. Through the first half of January, it was about as balmy as it could be. Our crews were busy at work, building. We can schedule work right through the winter, I said. And that’s pretty much what we were doing. And so it went, until early last week. That’s when the chatter started from the weather people. There’s a big old snow storm coming. No one knew for sure the path it would take. And I heard it every morning on the way to work, and every day on the talk radio station I listen to on my computer. Now it was coming in from the Pacific. Now it was crossing the Rockies. And as each day passed, they got a little firmer, a little bolder with their predictions, the weather people. And by mid-week, they pretty much proclaimed it. A major storm, coming in from the west. Anywhere from a foot to eighteen inches of snow. That’s what was forecast for the local area. To the south, down in DC and Baltimore, down there they would see a record snowfall. These were real rumblings, of a real storm coming. And we got set mentally to hunker in.
They even gave the storm a name. Jonas. I was astounded. Where in the world did they come up with a name like that? From the Jonas Brothers? From Jonas-Jonas Huckabuck? For a first name, Jonas is about as Amish as it comes. I would bet there are more Amish Jonases than any other brand. It sounded kind of cool, actually. Jonas the Storm. And now Jonas was roaring in from the west and south. By all accounts, he was not a happy camper. And he was all primed to dump a load of snow right here in New Holland.
And I thought about it. If this thing was anywhere close to as bad as they were saying, I’d be holed up in my house for a few days. For sure all day Saturday. And I thought about it some more. For years, when a snow storm had me holed up in the house, I always turned to my favorite beverage. Scotch or vodka. You mix yourself a drink, right in the middle of the day, and you just sit there and sip that baby and look out the window and watch it snow. That’s how I’ve always, always done it. I won’t say I was all uneasy or anything like that, as my first vodka-free snowstorm named Jonas swept up from the south and west. But I will say I sure thought about it. I will say that. Oh, well, I thought, too. I got my food, my eggs and taters to fry up. I had plenty of both. And I had something else, too, a new thing. And no, this wasn’t a cooking pot from my father’s stash from years ago. This was a new kind of tool for a new kind of food. I had my brand-new Ninja blender.
Bunny trail, coming right up, here. This is how it all came down. It was about as far from my mind as anything can be, a few weeks back, when Rodney told me at work one day. He’s got a blender at home, and every morning he mixes up a healthy mixture of veggies and fruits and other goopy things. He just throws that stuff all in, he told me. And then it blends, there in his blender. He drinks a shake for breakfast, goes home and mixes one up for lunch, and then eats a regular meal for dinner. And he’s slowly losing some weight. I was intrigued. Wow. That’s a world I’ve never seen before Tell me more. And he offered. “I’ll mix one up for you tomorrow, and bring it in. You can have it for lunch.” He did. And I did. And I was impressed, I gotta say. And I was about to step through the door of the blending world, a place I had never known even existed, except maybe in the vaguest sense. I mean, you figure some whacked-out vegan is gonna be out there, blending up nuts and stuff. But not real people in the real world. I was about to find out different. Big time different.
It’s a very strange world, when you get to talking about blenders, I soon found out. Rodney had a Vitamix. The top of the top of the top. I guess it will do about everything except actually eat what it chops and slices and dices up. You can even make soup in eight minutes in a Vitamix. And that night, I threw a little post out on Facebook. I was impressed, I wrote, with the shake Rodney had brought me. I can see a quality blender real soon in my near future. Well. You’d think a herd of cats were set loose, with their tails tied together. The comments came spitting out, fast and furious, from almost the first minute. Get a Vitamix. Definitely the best. No, no, get a Nutri Bullet, came from over here. And from over here, no, no, get a Ninja. And back and forth it went, the conversation, and back and forth. My head was spinning. I never had any idea there were so many different brands of blenders, and so many passionate fans of each brand. This was a whole new world I was wandering into.
The Vitamix definitely seemed to be at the top of the totem pole, when it came to quality. But it definitely is at the top tier in pricing, too. A refurbished model goes for $300.00. Double that for a brand new model. That’s a lot of smackeroos, for a blender. My cash flow is fairly modest, and there’s been sizable hospital bills coming in. All the other brands were more reasonably priced, more in line with my budget. I figured I’d look around for a few weeks, then make my decision. In the meantime, I bought a $16 cheapo blender at Walmart, to use while I was making up my mind. And I gotta say. If that’s all that would be available on the market, I would never have taken up blending. The cheapo blender was a piece of junk. After a few weeks, I decided to step on up to something of a bit more quality.
I really liked the looks of the Ninja, and eventually that’s the one I settled for. The people I knew who owned one had nothing but very good things to say. And I watched an infomercial, too, that just happened to be on one day. According to my TV, the Ninja chops, dices, slashes, dips, mashes and blends. It does everything but cook. One notch below the Vitamix. And also vastly more affordable at an even $100.00 at Walmart. So one Saturday, a few weeks back, I picked one up. I brought it home and carefully unpacked it and set it up. The circular, spiraling blades looked so cool, and very capable of doing any job I needed done. And every morning since then, I’ve been blending up my very own secret formula of smoothie for breakfast and for lunch. It’s a production, but it’s a lot of fun, too. And I actually love the taste.
OK. Back from the bunny trail. I was all stocked up for any snowstorm, I figured, as Jonas came roaring in. Plenty of greens, and plenty of frozen fruits in the fridge. I’d be in good shape, as long as the power didn’t go out. And I chatted with the tenant, as the weekend got close. We might be getting a good chunk of snow, I told him. I just stopped tonight at the hardware and bought me a new shovel. My old one broke last year. And he looked at me, all wise. “Well,” he said. “We got a pickup with a plow blade at work. I’ll bring that home on Friday night. I can clear the drives here when it stops, then I’ll have to go to work and clear the place.” Works for me, I said. And right along, that Thursday, the weather people got bolder. Jonas will arrive tomorrow night, they proclaimed. On Friday night, at around seven o’clock, the flurries will start. And it will pick up, then, and snow all night and all the next day.
Friday. D-Day. We felt it in the air. Definitely something serious was coming. The weather people kept saying. Down south a ways, they will get hammered. Two feet, maybe thirty inches. Here, around this area, eight to twelve. By Friday, that was upped to maybe eighteen inches. Wow. That would be a mess. After work, I headed for home. I wanted to stop at Amelia’s Grocery for a few things. But first, I needed gas at Sheetz. I approached the station from the south, on my way home. It was just before six. Dark. Sheetz was all lit up. And there was something unusual going on, I saw when I got close.
The place was a madhouse at the gas pumps. Trucks and cars lined up, waiting. Not long lines, just a few vehicles deep. But still, I had never seen anything like it, not here. They have fifteen pumps or so. The place is big and roomy. I pulled in to the crowded lot. Come on, you people, I grumbled to myself. Do all of you have to wait until just before it snows to fill up with gas? And about then, I thought about it. That’s what I was doing. That’s what I had done. And I simmered down right there and quietly took my place in line and waited, just like everyone else.
And it all came down, as it had been foretold. Right at seven, I strolled out to get my mail. Snow was spitting sideways from dark skies. I saw the highway was starting to get covered, too. The road looked slick. Cars crept along carefully. A bad time to be out, tonight, I thought. And I walked back inside my warm and well-lit house.
And later that night, before hitting my bed, I looked out again. I was scheduled to work the next day until noon. And I wanted to get a good idea if the roads would be open. At 9:30 that night, I knew there would be no going to work the next day. Snow was falling steadily, and it didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon.
Saturday. I slept in. Around 8:30, I got up. Took my shower, then cranked up the Ninja. Sat at my computer as I sipped my breakfast. Outside, the snow was piling up, and I mean, piling up. Still. I looked longingly out the window. A quick run to Sheetz for coffee couldn’t hurt. And I bundled up in my hat and heavy coat and walked out to the garage, where Big Blue was safely parked inside. The tenant usually keeps his car in the garage. I evict him only when there’s a snowstorm coming, so I can park my truck inside. He doesn’t grumble. And it works out well for both of us. I waded through the knee deep snow and opened the big garage door. The day before, I had loaded some concrete blocks on my truck bed, for weight. Now, I got in, and backed out into the storm.
It was pretty bad getting out of my garage and driving the few hundred feet to the main road. Great drifts stretched and swathed everywhere. A few times, I had to back up and take a run for it, to get through a drift. And eventually I got out to Rt. 23. Headed left, and on down to Sheetz. That place is always, always open. Don’t matter what the weather’s like, or if all the roads are closed. Sheetz is open. I pulled in, parked, and got out. Walked in. A few straggling snow plowers wandered about, stocking up on food for their shifts. The coffee was on. I filled a large cup, paid, and walked back out. Getting onto my side road and into my garage was quite an adventure. An hour later, I don’t think I could have made it. But now I did. I waded back to the house. And stepped out again to take a picture of my stone angel, huddled and cold under the shrub tree, the snow swirling all around.
And that was the only excursion anyone took from my place that day. The snow kept sweeping down, and kept getting deeper and deeper. Inside, all nice and warm by my Eden Pure heater, I putzed around. Played on the computer. Surfed Facebook. And got some reading done. Since my hospital stay, I have been reading much, much more than I have in many years. I’m working my way through about ten P.G. Wodehouse books that have been gathering dust for a long time. The man was simply a genius, and simply the greatest humorist to ever lay pen to paper. I devour one book, and go right on to the next. Jeeves, Bertie, Blandings Castle, the Mulliners. I saw somewhere that Mr. Wodehouse wrote a hundred books. And right now, I’m working my way through that list at a pretty good clip.
I fired up my cooking burner that day around noon, and fried up a mess of potatoes and eggs and toast and butter. What better feast is there than that, right in the middle of a snowstorm? And I glanced at the liquor cabinet now and then. A vodka sure would go down good about now. And that’s as far as it ever got. Just me thinking about how good it used to taste. It never was a close thing, as far as giving in.
And I thought about it, mulled it over a good deal that day, as Jonas swirled and swept around outside. The strange place I’m in, when it comes to alcohol. It’s all pretty uncomplicated. A lot of people make things a lot more complicated than they’d have to. They make the mountain way too steep, the monster way too fearful. Recently, there was a real popular link floating around on Facebook. I saw it posted at least half a dozen times. Some pastor wrote it. Fifty Reasons Why I Don’t Drink. And I read through the list, and it was all fine, I guess. But I thought to myself. Why twist yourself into fifty different pretzels to come up with fifty different reasons not to drink? Does that make you more holy, the more reasons you have? I don’t drink for only one reason. My doctor told me not to. That’s about as simple as it gets. And there’s nothing “holy” about any of it. Nothing moral or immoral. It’s just a choice, as most things in life are.
By late Saturday, before I got to bed, the snow had pretty much stopped. Jonas had played himself out, and a record storm he turned out to be. Outside, right at thirty inches lay spread on the ground. I chatted with the tenant on the phone, and we plotted our move for the next morning. He had parked his pickup and plow outside, where I usually park Big Blue. He’d get right busy as soon as we got up.
And the next morning around nine, he was out there, warming up his truck. I bundled up and stepped outside with my shovel. He walked over and we stood and talked. And after a bit, he cleared his throat. “Look,” he said. “I want you to be careful, shoveling out here. I don’t want to come around and see you lying there in bad shape, or worse. Take it slow. Stop and rest often. Shovel for ten minutes, rest for five. Shovel for ten, rest for five.” Yes, sir. I said. There wasn’t really anything else to say.
He got to plowing, then, and I had my short back walks cleared in ten minutes. And soon enough, both drives were open as the tenant plowed right along. He took off, then, for his work place, to get the lots cleared there. I stepped out to the garage and unlimbered Big Blue. Time now for another coffee run to Sheetz. And that morning, the roads were passable, almost fully cleared.
After lunch, the tenant had not returned. I retired for a brief nap. And just as I was dozing off, there came a tapping on the door, out on the street side. Ah, come on, I thought. I’m trying to rest, here. But I got up, and stepped to the door and looked out, then opened it. A young teenager stood there, shovel in hand. “Do you need your walks cleared?” he asked. And I was impressed. Tell you what. I need a path cleared to my mailbox out there, and I need the snow cleared away so the mailman can get in, I said. How much? He shrugged. “Fifteen bucks,” he said. Deal, I said. And I was impressed again. The kid got right down to business, and half an hour later, he was knocking on my door for his money. I walked out and checked his work, then handed him a twenty. Keep the change. He thanked me and walked on to the next place. An enterprising kid, right there, I thought. He’ll get somewhere some day, with that kind of drive.
The next day, things got back to half normal. I headed off to work. A slow Monday, for sure, after a storm like that. The boys spent much of the day on skid loaders, clearing the parking lot and yard. And all this week, the temperatures have warmed into the thirties every day. The snow banks are settling, sinking. And soon, all will return to how it was before.
And thus Jonas came and went.
I’m a cowboy,
On a steel horse I ride.
I’m wanted, dead or alive.
Wanted, dead or alive.
—Bon Jovi, lyrics
I didn’t quite know what was going on when I got back home from my little excursion to the hospital, back over a month ago. But I knew there were some changes coming. New stuff, new ventures into scary new places. And I’m a person of routines, stuck in my ways. I liked it the way it was, is my motto. So I wasn’t all that eager to walk forward, to see what all that new stuff might be. But I gotta say, this far out. It’s been rolling right along, life has. And I’ve pretty much been rolling right along with it. And I was right, about those changes coming. Some real strange things have been going on. Real strange things, indeed.
Where to start? Where to start? Right here, I guess. I’m cooking for myself. I mean, actually frying stuff up in a frying pan on the stove. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of my history will grasp how astonishing is this fact. I got lectured pretty hard, by the grave doctor and his nutritionists. Low sodium only. You’ll really, really have to watch what you eat. And you can’t go out to eat, much. Most restaurant food is gonna set off those fluids in you again. Which means you’re best off fixing your own food at home. Cooking. For yourself. It did no good, and I was too shell-shocked anyway, to make much of any protest. But I don’t cook. I never have. You might as well tell me to learn to speak Latin, or some such senseless thing.
It all was what it was, I figured. And I figured, too, that most of my cooking would be done in my crock pot. That’s the most basic way to cook any food. And I had watched Ellen, way back, when she whipped up a crock pot meal. It was all pretty simple to do on my own, later on. And that’s about the only way I’ve ever cooked, ever since I’ve lived alone, these past nine years. And that’s the first thing I did after I got home, this time. I cooked up a batch of beans and spices and a hunk of organic buffalo meat in the crock pot. It all came out OK, and I ate the mess. But I got to thinking, along about that time. There has to be something more to life than a crock pot, when it comes to fixing food. There has to be a better way. There just has to be.
And there was a better way, all right. I would have to learn to cook, at least the basics. I had the pots and pans, I knew, to fry up what could be fried. My kitchen is quite well-stocked, in fact. Many years ago, my father discovered some special cookware imported all the way from Denmark. It was made of titanium, brand named Pyrolux. I’m not sure why Dad got all excited about this particular brand. But he did, and he became a dealer in short order. There must have been some perceived health benefit or other going on. And as he always did in all his business ventures, my father went all out. He wrote about this new magical cookware in The Budget and possibly in Family Life. And he stocked up on dozens and dozens of pots and pans of every imaginable size and shape. I mean, there were large pans and large pots, all with glass lids. And there were medium and small pans and medium and small pots, all with glass lids as well. And I know the man sold and shipped out hundreds of these pots and pans to customers all across this land and Canada.
All that, to say this. There was a space there of about a decade, maybe from the mid-1990s on, when I picked up a new piece of titanium cookware every time I went home to visit. Dad offered his wares to me quite magnanimously, I must say. And I never shrank from accepting such a gift. Oh, yes, I’d love one, I told him when he offered. And I’d venture into his vast storeroom of inventory and help myself to whatever item caught my fancy on that particular day. And over time, I ended up with just about all there was to get, when it comes to cookware from the Pyrolux Company in Denmark. I had small pots and large pots, I had small pans and large pans and flat square pans and round pans. Even after Ellen and I were married and stopped by home to visit, I always asked Dad. Got any cookware around I can have? By this time, the pot and pan business had long been extinct. But he still had a good bit of inventory kicking around. And much to Ellen’s embarrassment, Dad always told me to help myself, which I did, happily and without any guilt whatsoever. “Stop asking him for free stuff,” Ellen hissed at me every time. Oh, he wants to get rid of it, I said amiably, as I grabbed another two-hundred dollar pot from a large pile that sat there gathering dust.
And so there was not a problem finding the tools to cook with. My kitchen is a gold mine of all one might need. I can hold my head high, there. (I’m thinking titanium has fallen out of favor and might now be considered poisonous. Maybe that’s why Dad had so many of the pots and pans available.) The problem was, what can I cook? I mean, I could not have been less skilled than I was.
I asked around a bit. Did some checking, on low sodium foods. And I found a couple of things I figured would be pretty simple. Eggs. And potatoes. And yes, I know. Potatoes are loaded with carbs. But that didn’t concern me much. I wanted something that passed my new low sodium test. And raw potatoes and raw eggs have no sodium, naturally. Or it’s so miniscule it might as well be nonexistent. I could eat anything I fried up, as long as I kept the salt off. Or at least kept it to a minimum. And so I ventured out to the grocery store one day. And there I found what I was looking for. Some red potatoes. And a dozen large free-range eggs. I bravely trudged home with my victuals. Now, to see if I could fry up this stuff.
And I gotta say, it all turned out. Sure, there was a learning curve, especially in frying the eggs. I busted the yolk every time, the first dozen tries or so. Eventually I figured it out. Just don’t flip them. Crack’em open into the pan, cover with the lid, and let the eggs cook. Over easy is how I like them anyway. The taters were easy. I sliced and diced and chopped them up, cut up part of an onion, greased up the pan with olive oil, and cooked the whole mess up. And lately I’ve took to adding some bits of hamburger or thin steak slices, chopped up. That all makes some tasty goulash. And it all makes for a delicious mess when you top it with a couple of farm-fresh, organic, over-easy eggs. I’ve been dining real fine. One of these days, I’ll be confident enough to cook for company, even. And for me, that’s saying something.
And no, not every night do I fry up eggs and potatoes. Maybe every other night. I beg whatever I can from friends wherever I can, and I have a good supply of frozen, low-sodium foods in my freezer. Soups and such. And I dine out at least twice a week. I’m pushing that line on salt, seeing how far I can take it. Still careful, of course. But not paranoid. And so far, it’s all been going good. Including my cooking. Which is a very strange thing. But it’s not the strangest thing.
And moving right on down the list, then, to the next odd thing. And that is the extraordinary fact that I have grown a beard. Yep, whiskers. And a mustache, even. Such a thing is probably just about the last thing I would ever have imagined you would hear me tell, a few months back. But now it’s now. Things aren’t the same as they were yesterday. I’ve been very leery of beards for decades. Never dreamed of having one, with one exception. The wheat harvest, back in 1986. I grew a beard out there in the wild lands of Montana and Alberta, because somehow that seemed fitting. Mostly, though, I was a lost soul back then. And that beard lasted only a few months. Once I got back to civilization in Daviess, off it came. And that’s been my only experience, ever, with a beard, at least that I can remember. Until now.
I’ve never liked beards, because in the world where I grew up, beards were mandatory for men. At least after you got married. In Aylmer, you had to grow whatever beard you could when you joined church. I mean, their youth have beards. Or did, years ago. I can’t speak for today. I’d guess that’s still the rule up there. And that’s fine, if it is. I’m just saying, I’ve never liked beards, and never seriously considered growing one in the normal course of things. You get burned out, when something is mandatory like that. You shy away from the hard and fast rules. And it gets to be a pretty powerful motivator, not to fall in line, when you got that kind of baggage on your back.
I’ve seen it many times, over the years, and I always recoiled from it. Some guy will break away from the Amish, married or single. And next thing you know, he’s showing up, not with a beard, but with a huge old bushy walrus mustache. Because the Amish can’t have mustaches. And for some guys, it’s just too much to shake off, when freedom suddenly comes. I mean, I understand it. But I’ve always recoiled from it. You see an old friend, or just some guy you know came from the Amish. Beardless, he strolls about. But between his nose and mouth, there grows a great bushy mass of hair so huge that you know it has to interfere with his food when he’s eating. I’ve never been able to grasp why anyone would want to do such a thing. But it’s OK. I’m over my revulsion now. I’ve come to realize it’s none of my business, the personal choices others make. And I’ve remained pretty much free of beard and mustache over the course of my entire lifetime. And happily so. Until now.
There’s one thing that happens when you stay in the hospital for ten days. You don’t shave. Mostly, because you’re laid up, and you can’t. At least, that’s how it was for me. My first Monday there, I had Steve stop by my house and pick up a few things. Including my battery shaver. He dutifully lugged it in. And there it sat, in a bag, until the day I left. You don’t shave, because you don’t feel like it. And half the time I was there, I couldn’t get out of bed whenever I felt like it, anyway. And so, by day ten, I looked at myself in the mirror with some interest. I sure had a scruffy face. I wasn’t sure how I was gonna get all that hair off with my shaver, or a razor. And it hit me, about the last day I was there. It’s grown, now, for ten days. Trim it up, and it won’t look half bad. And by the time my nephew, Andrew, arrived to escort me out of that place, I had it figured out. I would go and buy a trimmer. Because I would need one in the future, to trim my new beard.
And so far in, I actually kind of like it. It took some getting used to, I gotta say. I shudder to confess, though. I have a mustache. Gahhh. One never knows, when one is judging others. Some day, you’ll walk that same path yourself. Anyway, at my age, I got a lot of gray hair. So my beard is partially gray, too. I keep it trimmed way down, and neat. It’s a salt and pepper look. It all gives me a little more gravitas than I naturally have, I would claim. And it definitely makes me look at least slightly distinguished. Especially during conversations when I reach up and slowly stroke or scratch my beard with a wise and knowing look. With a beard like that, I think, you can fool a lot of people a lot of the time.
All that said, I’m not making any prognostications about walking about majestically bearded for the rest of my life. As fast as the notion struck me, it could well leave. To me, it’s nothing religious or moral or amoral, growing a beard. It’s just that I knew I’d be facing a new world, when I got home from the hospital. And for that new world, I’m sporting a new look. And that’s all there is to that.
OK, then. So I’m cooking for myself in my own kitchen, with my very own cutting-edge cookware. Bearded. Had you told me such a thing would be, six months ago, I would have expelled you from my presence. I would have told you to come back when your head’s feeling right again. And I would have done all this with a totally clean conscience. But things get stranger still.
I’m not even quite sure how it happened, just last week. I was strolling about in a department store one day, not really looking for anything in particular. Maybe some shirts off the clearance rack. I always buy my winter shirts around this time of year, when the spring clothes are getting stocked, and the old inventory gets way reduced.
I walked about, lollygagging. Looking at this and that. And then I walked right into a small section with several nice racks and shelves. On those racks and shelves were hats. Dozens and dozens of hats of every type. Spiffy little fedoras. Bowlers. English caps. I checked out a few with some interest. I hadn’t known hats were “in” again. They must be, for a store to stock a selection like this. And then I saw them, off to one end. Not really cowboy hats. Maybe you’d call them Aussie hats. Something like Crocodile Dundee wore, way back. Or Harrison Ford. A medium wide brim, turned down in front and back. And I couldn’t help myself. I took one that looked to be about my size and tried it on. It fit perfectly. But nah, I thought. I don’t do hats. I don’t wear hats. I just don’t.
And once again, my aversion to hats is something that can be traced straight back to my ex-Amish roots. From where I come from, in the Midwest, you don’t wear a hat if you came from the Amish. At least, that’s how it was, years ago. And since that time, wearing a hat of any kind has been just about the last thing I could ever imagine doing.
We always, always had to wear a hat outside, growing up. That’s the underlying issue. And when it gets drilled in you like that, you get burned out. And you shy away from it if you ever break free. I can remember many times, playing outside at home, gloriously grimy and hatless. And Dad would come strolling around, on his way to somewhere, maybe town. And if it was your turn to go with him, it was a big deal. And always, always, he said. “Go get your hat, so we can go.” And we did. Did we ever. A trip to town was way too big to miss, just because you didn’t have your hat on.
One of the most accurate scenes in the movie “Witness” involved a hat. The Amish mother and son sat there in the train station in Philly, waiting. The little boy asked to go to the restroom (where he would witness the murder that set things off). His pretty young mother smiled and told him he could go. The boy turned and was two steps gone, when she spoke his name, and he halted in his tracks. “Samuel,” she said. “Dye Hoot” (Samuel. Your hat). The boy turned back with an “ah, shucks” grin, and put on his hat. That’s exactly how it would have happened in real life. I’ve always marveled at the scriptwriters, that they got such a small detail so right on.
So it was from such a foundation of experiences that I stood there at that hat rack that day. Fingering that Aussie hat. Trying it on, and trying it on again. It fit perfectly. It’s hard to find a real hat that fits perfectly, I thought to myself. And it was a Stetson, a real honorable brand. And best of all, it was 50% off. Well, that’s what the signs claimed, anyway.
In my old world, it would have ended right there. With me toying with that hat, then setting it back on the shelf, and walking out of there. But the old world I knew for decades is gone, now. In this new world, I cook for myself. And I thought, what the heck? The new me don’t drink, and I’ve got a new beard. So why not a manly hat, for a whole new look? Those are the thoughts that flashed through me as I stood there, turning that hat in my hands by its brim.
Well, you can guess the rest. I took that hat right up to the nearest cashier. Shelled out my $23.00, which was half the listed price. And I walked out of that store with that hat. In my truck, I shaped the brim just right.
I wore my new hat out and about the rest of that day. And I gotta say. People look at you a little different, when you come around. Eye you up a little different, give you a little wider berth. And everyone is, oh, so respectful and polite. I’m not saying that’s the way it should be. But that’s the way it is.
That evening, I strolled into Vinola’s, proudly wearing my new hat. I’d like to say I clanked in, but I haven’t worn spurs since my ranching days in Valentine, Nebraska. A few regulars lounged at the far end of the bar. I greeted them and took a seat. Pour me something exotic in a tall glass, I told the barmaid. Whatever you mix up with be fine. Just leave out the alcohol. That’s how it’s been, in my new world. I still stop at my favorite bar, to eat and chat. Not as often as I used to, just now and then. And I am very much welcomed. My friends at Vinola’s had heard about my stint in the hospital, and they all rushed around and hugged and welcomed me, my first time back. I can’t drink, I told them. At least, not for now. And they were totally fine with that. I harvested a lot of welcome hugs from a host of very lovely ladies. “Welcome back,” they told me. “And, oh, I like your beard.” I smiled and felt right at home, like I always do there.
And that night, my friends commented about my hat. Yeah, I said. I just wanted something different. Plus, it’s winter. You gotta have protection on your head. And I sat there, watching football with my buddies and swapping lies. And I ordered some food. A cheeseburger. They make everything from scratch, there at Vinola’s. And I tell them. I can’t drink. I can’t eat salt. They serve up the food, as salt-free as they can make it. And all of it is just beyond delicious.
After eating, I soon made noises to leave. My exotic, juicy drink was gone. My hamburger wolfed down. Time to head on home, I told my friends. And one of them asked me. “I want to buy you one for the road. Will you drink a cup of hot tea?”
Well. What do you say to that, sitting at any bar? You take what’s offered from a sincere heart, I figured. Sure, I said. I don’t know much about hot tea, but I’d love some. I called over the barmaid, and we had a little conference about what it is to make hot tea. Then, by magic, a cup of hot water appeared. And a selection of tea bags. I picked one and plopped it in. And waited while the hot water turned all murky. And then I sat there, hunched over the bar at Vinola’s in my “bad” new hat, sipping a hot cup of Earl Grey.
I shuddered to think of what Max Brand or Louis L’Amour would have written about such a scene. A couple of young toughs would walk up and insult me. That’s the formula. There would be words. Ha, ha, look at that wuss. He’s not man enough to drink real whiskey. He’s drinking hot tea. Shouldn’t you be sticking out your pinky finger when you lift that cup? Ha, ha, ha. I would stare them down, and they’d go for their guns. And I’d have to draw, lightning-quick, and shoot them both. All to prove I’m a man, and that a man can drink hot tea anywhere he’s darn well got a mind to.
I finished my drink, and slapped my friends on the back. So long, guys. And thanks for the tea. And walked out of the place. It sure is a strange thing, I thought later. My old routines got all busted. And here I am, cooking my own food at home. I got a new beard. I’m wearing a tough new hat to the bar, and drinking hot tea. And it’s been less than two months since I got back home from the hospital. I sure wonder what other borders are out there to cross. Or if I’ll have the nerve to cross them when I reach them.
I think I’ll have the nerve. Heck, the way it’s going, one of these days I’ll be rumbling down distant roads on my custom Harley.