by Barbara Harroun
My father made me the fur hat in late 1984 or early 1985. I was ten. My body was beginning to betray me: puberty.
The hat was hand stitched, made from the gray fox collar of a woman’s coat culled from a Salvation Army. The fur, fine and soft, wrapped around the circumference of my head, with a skull cap of the softest doe skin, dyed a deep brown. Later I’d find out my father had boiled the hide in walnut hulls to achieve the chocolate hue. Inside, the hat was quilted satin, a glossy tan.
Originally, the hat also had soft strips of leather that tied beneath my chin. One snapped off when Matt Brenner took my hat in a game of keep away. He spun the hat around, out of my reach, and the lace snapped and the hat went flying. He was as shocked as I was, more so when I punched him in the stomach. His breath came out in a soft, “Oof.”
Strangers reached out and skimmed their hands along the hat, no matter that it was on my head. I remember the kids in my class asking where I’d gotten it, and I explained my father made it. It was the only one of its kind. One girl asked if he’d make her one. “No,” I said. It is quite possible I narrowed my eyes as I answered.
I was better at kick ball in that hat. A faster runner. A better story teller. More myself.
I wore my hat until it fell apart. I slept with the remaining segment of fox fur, pressed my face to it at night. It took me through sixth grade, rode with me until the body I had was no longer new and terrifying.
My father can wear a hat. From him, I learned that you wear a hat as if a simple extension of yourself, keeping your head warm with panache. My Grandpa Ryan was also a natural. He wore hats that accented his dancer’s posture, and complimented his crisp white pants, his brightly checkered summer shirts, ironed so thoroughly each sleeve had an equator. When he died, my auntie asked if there was anything of his I wanted. In one closet, on the third floor of his South Boston home, there was a fur hat with earflaps that called up for me the hat my father made. My grandfather, I was told, wore this hat skiing. In the winter, now a woman edging toward forty, I put it on and I am warmed by it. Even now, I am still partly that ten year-old girl, terrified of growing up and astounded by a father’s extraordinary gift.
My own daughter is now ten. She adores my grandfather’s fur hat. She wears and delights in it. I want to give her the same kind of gift my father gave me. Something that warms her, shields her from the cold, and empowers her. Something tangible to aid her in becoming who she is. It was a hat my father made me, but truly it was a bridge to who I’d become, a compass, a talisman, and an abiding comfort when my own body was an uncomfortable, seemingly dangerous terrain to inhabit. This winter, I’ll give my daughter the hat and I’ll tell her the story. Once I was scared, deeply uncertain, and my father made me a fur hat.
Barbara Harroun is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University where she teaches creative writing and composition. Her work has appeared in the Sycamore Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Buffalo Carp, Friends Journal, In Quire, Bird's Thumb, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Requited Journal, Festival Writer, and Red Wolf Journal. It is forthcoming in i70 Review, Sugared Water, Per Contra, The Riveter Review, Catch and Release, Pea River Journal, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, and Mud Season Review. She lives with her favorite creative endeavors, Annaleigh and Jack, and her awesome husband, Bill.