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AMERICAN STORIES - Papa's Straw Hat

By Fread Gibson

Broadcast: Saturday, January 29, 2005

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Our story this week is called "Papa's Straw Hat". It was written by Fread Gibson. Here is Shep O'Neal to tell the story.

Papa was a ranger. He worked with horses. He was proud of the way he dressed. He always wore clean cloth even when he worked. That is very difficult for a ranger who works outside on a horse farm. He often said to me, "Son, you may not be able to buy the best cloth, but always keep those you have clean. That is the important thing." Papa did what he said. His cloths were never dirty like those of most of other rangers I knew.

Papa never worked outside without a hat. He always wore the same kind of hat. It was a cowboy hat, a large black hat of heavy wool. He never pushed the hat to one side of his head. He wore it straight. And he did not push the top of his hat down like most cowboys do. He wore his hat full and high. I think he wanted to look taller that he really was.

Papa had two hats. One was his Sunday hat, the other was his everyday hat. When his Sunday hat got old, he wore it every day and then bought a new Sunday hat. He wore his Sunday hat only to church or on holidays or when he visited the city. Most of the time he kept his Sunday hat in a special box. He hid it, so we could not find it. Papa loved his hats and he cared for them in a special way. He never through them down on a chair, someone might sit on them. He even had a special place for his everyday hat. As soon as he came into the house from work, he put his hat on a nail behind of the kitchen door.

Mama was very careful of papa`s hat. She was proud of the way he looked when he worked or when he wore his Sunday hat and his best cloth. She was not permitted to touch his Sunday hat. Then something happened. Maybe it was the heat of the long summer. Maybe mama read about hats in a magazine or book. But in some way, she got the idea that papa should not wear a heavy wool cowboy hat in the hot weather. She began to believe that papa would lose his hair if he did. Mama began to worry more about papa`s hair than about his hats.

Perhaps it was uncle George who made mama worry about papa`s hair. Uncle George had no hair. His head was as smooth as an egg. Papa had thick black hair that shown like silk. It would be terrible if papa lost his hair because he wore a heavy wool cowboy hat. So mama began to worry. She began to watch papa carefully as he worked in the hot fields under his tall heavy hat. She saw how wet his hair was when he came into the house. Mama began to talk about his hats.

"Papa," she said one day, "why don`t you throw that old wool hat away and get a nice cool straw hat?"

"What?" papa said, "me, wear a straw hat? I would never let my horses see me in a straw hat."

"Horse?" mama answered, "What have horses to do with a straw hat? Animals don`t care what kind of hat you wear."

"Might do." papa said, "My horses recognize me because I always wear the same hat. And they like the cowboy hats best of all." "Anyway," he said, "I`ll not be seen deadly a straw hat."

Mama talked and talked, but she could not change papa`s mind. They talked about hats all summer long. At last, mama tried to frighten papa to get him to wear a straw hat.

"Papa," she said, "just look at most of the ranger we know. All of them wear heavy wool cowboy hats in a summer. And most of them have lost their hair."

Papa laughed at mama. He laughed so hard that tears ran down his face and his stomach hurt. But his laughing did not stop mama. She told him about Jim Barry who lost his hair about two years ago.

Papa a little angry answered, "It was not the cowboy hat that made Jim Barry lose his hair. It was his wife always talking about hats and not giving him any peace and quiet."

Mama said nothing. She stopped talking about hats. I wondered what was going to happen.

Then one day, mama got up earlier than usual. She marched to the kitchen and made breakfast. She had a very serious look on her face. She did not say a word. She made more noise than usual. She put the dishes so hard I thought they would break. Suddenly, she got in the car and drove toward the city. She did not tell us why she was going. Later, she came home with a straw hat. She still looked very serious. There had not been much rain that year. It was a bad year for rangers. We had only a little money. But it was the year for papa to buy a new cowboy hat. Mama knew this. She also thought that if she spent the money for a straw hat, papa would not spend any money to but a cowboy hat. Mama was right. When papa saw the straw hat, his face got red. He said nothing. He pull the straw hat down over his head until it hide his eyes. He looked very funny. I wanted to laugh but I did not. I was afraid to, because papa was so angry. I remembered how quiet he was as he marched out of house. I followed him that day. He was going to train the wild horses again.

I loved to watch him work. He had gotten the horses earlier in the year. But they were still half wild have trained. Papa slowly walked toward the field where the horses were eating grass. He was a good ranger because he was gentle with horse never cruel to them. He had given maize to all the horses. He always caught to them when he first saw them in the morning. He talked softly to them, so they would not be afraid. Sometimes, the horses walked up to him when he caught their names. They knew his cowboy hat with he wore every day. They did not feel safe near any other person. I followed papa as he walked toward the field calling their names. At first, the horses continued to eat. But as papa get closer, the horses looked up at him. Suddenly, they jumped high into the air, raising their front feet. Then they began to ran around wildly. They screamed the way frightened horses do. One horse kept the hay wagon over. All of them ran around in the rounded field and then raced toward the barn where they slept. I never heard such a noise.

Papa began to shout "Woo, boys. Steady boys, steady." But there was nothing equal to. He marched toward the horse. Inside the barn, the frightened horses screamed and kept hard against the walls of the barn. Mama came running out of the house. She stood near the door waiting for papa. She held her hands against her heart.

"What is it, papa? What is it?"

Papa did not answered. She held the door open and he marched into the house. Mama followed him. I went in after them to see what was going to happen. Papa walked straight to he stove in the kitchen. He opened the top of the stove, pulled the straw hat off his head and pushed it deep down into the fire.

At last, he turned to mama and looked at her in a way that even frightened me. I never heard papa so angry. He shouted and shouted all sorts of new words. At last, his anger was gone. Then he said in a soft but firm voice.

"Now listen to me, mama. Understand this I will never wear a straw hat or any other kind of hat my horses do not like." Then he put on his Sunday cowboy hat and walked out of the house.

It was almost middle night when the noise died away and the animals became quiet. The next day, papa fixed all the broken wood in the walls of the barn. I never heard mama talk anymore about hats. Perhaps, that is why when papa died many years later, there was a round spot on the top of his head where there was no hair.



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