Vagneur: One thing — don’t touch the hat
There are old photographs of my grandfather wearing high-crowned, wide-brimmed Stetson hats, looking big on him, and he was a big man. He had one in particular I coveted as a young boy: a silverbelly, bound-edge model, with a silk hat band.
It hung along the wall at the top of the stairs leading to the basement, and I’d try it on when no one was looking. Even little kids know better than to touch another man’s hat. It didn’t seem like Grandpa ever wore the lid, at least I never saw him in it, and, when he died, the hat came into my possession.
Back when wheels turned a little differently and dogs didn’t necessarily go out of their way to urinate on the self-important big ones, it was sometimes a fun-sized deal to ride the passenger train to Denver with your wife and meet up with the cattle you had shipped there earlier in the day. (If you weren’t taking your wife, you’d ride over in the caboose.)
For one such occasion, my father had bought a new J.B. Stetson, naturally of the silverbelly hue, and, as he and my mother entered the dining car for dinner, my dad dutifully hung his hat on the provided rack just outside the door. That’s how it was done in those days — no one wore a hat to dinner.
Upon his exit, my dad discovered his new Stetson had been replaced by a worn and tattered felt of non-descript lineage. Perusing the cars as best he could, looking for the wayward hat thief and without having any luck, my dad figured whoever had made the switch needed the hat more than he did, so he screwed the nameless chapeau down and made the most of his days at the stockyards.
For a long time, there were cloakrooms or coat checks at the entrance to many of the upscale restaurants in town. Unlike my dad, a man could turn his hat over to the girl at one of those cloakrooms and be assured he’d get the same hat back, in the same condition. But, times change.
Two of my favorite dining establishments dispensed with their cloakrooms, which presented a conundrum for a time, but one of those eateries would see me coming and dash my hat off to a destination behind a wall and cheerfully present it to me, unscathed, upon my disembarkation.
The other reserved a chair for me in a back hall, where, left to my own devices, I could position the hat in a manner of my choosing without having to depend on anyone else. It was always there when it came time to leave. Both of these places have excellent food.
As you may have guessed — and, other than those two places — I don’t wear a really good hat uptown anymore. It often comes down to being offered the choice of either wearing the hat at the table, still a no-no among ranchers and Westerners, or putting it on the floor under my chair or the table. No way to treat an expensive hat. It’s OK to wear your hat at the bar, except at the Elks Club.
If you think I’m just blowing smoke here, think about this: The popularity of the Western soap opera Yellowstone has created a plethora of hangers-on who are dressing up like their heroes they see on television. Those folks are beginning to show up in fancy jackets, boots, and other stuff no self-respecting cowboy would wear, including expensive hats. People like that, living the dream, are going to need a place to hang their hats while they eat, unless they don’t know any better.
If you got to know Lyle Lovett back around the turning of the century designation, you’d know he’s a dedicated skier who isn’t afraid to push the envelope and eat a little snow. He’s also a damned fine songwriter who spells out quite clearly in his song, Don’t Touch My Hat, that making googly eyes at his girl may have different results than you’d expect.
I caught you looking
With your roving eye
So Mister you don’t have to act
If it’s her you want
I don’t care about that
You can have my girl
But don’t touch my hat.
That’s what Lyle says.
Tony Vagneur says, “Hang on to your hat, there may be more.” Tony writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.