A Tip of the Hat

The baseball cap, beyond it’s namesake function of keeping the sun out of a ball player’s eyes, is much more. Despite the fact that in some sophisticated but unfortunate circles of urban cliff dwellers it has been assigned a role in lampooning those of us who are blessed to reside in rural areas, when I walk into a place where ball caps are worn, I’m almost assured of finding good company and common interests.

Sadly, those who might poke fun may never know that beyond it’s usefulness as an article of clothing, the ball cap is also an accessory and a tool. It is, in fact, the Swiss Army Knife of clothing, and for many a nimble dad and grandpa, the baseball cap is a martial art. There are days when the cap is the only clean place to lay that sandwich. When you come upon a blackberry bush that has more berries than you can eat, a John Deere cap will hold enough for a good sized pie. When the heat and humidity demand an unscheduled swim in the pond, the hat will keep your keys and sunglasses out of the sand, and when you forget to take a basket to the hen house, the hat will hold enough eggs to fill a carton.

These are but a few of its uses. As to its utility in the martial arts, I once saw my grandfather decimate a nest of Guinea Wasps when my brother thought it would be interesting to throw a handful of fertilizer into a dark hole in an old hollow tree. I can still hear Grandaddy’s hat whistling and snapping like a buggy whip, and while I’m not the Hat Master my grandpa was, I’ve taken down many a horsefly with my own faithful cover. Once I even confused a copperhead long enough to jump back, with a spinning throw that would have looked good in a kung fu movie.

The baseball cap can even claim a place in the proper upbringing of unruly children, and I confess that I’ve had a welt or two raised by the precisely aimed steel button that sits on the top of any decent ball cap. On that note, a word of advice to some of our younger cap wearers: While it is your natural function to push out the boundaries of common sense, the only time a ball cap should be worn backwards is when you’re welding, or need to get up under something to put a wrench on it. You’ll realize this when that extra nanosecond it takes to reach back for the bill means you’ll be nursing a yellow jacket sting.

I have an old Ben Meadows cap that, it has been suggested to me, should have long ago been retired, but I have to disagree. It’s got a history, and as ragged as it might look, just the mention of its name brings fear and trembling to the horsefly clan. I got it on a trip to a Ben Meadows store with my dad many years ago, and it holds that memory and many others.

Another ragged adventurer is the fishing cap from Southeast Adventure on St. Simon’s Island. It was just getting broken in when a gust of wind took it off my head and into the Brunswick River, but a remarkably skillful (lucky) cast from the pier that my wife still talks about today, snagged it before the current took it out to sea.

I have hats from my grandfathers, and several from my dad, who covered the back on an entire door with his collection. The Atlanta Braves baseball cap from the world championship year and the Tin Can Sailors cap he liked to wear, both hold special meaning.

Gone is one of my all time favorites, the Dixon Ironworks cap given to me by a good friend from one of his first business ventures. It vanished with a puff of wind into the vastness of the Grand Canyon the first time I laid eyes on that wonder, coming upon it unexpectedly off of an unmarked road somewhere on the North Rim. The hat is gone, but the memories of our young adventures still shade my eyes from the bright glare of this virtual world of the fragile and the self indulgent.

I was raised to believe, and through faith I know that the measure of a human being is in the quality of their character and nothing else. Our culture, however, seems obsessed with identity, so if I’m forced to identify, so be it. I identify with the baseball cap wearing members of our society, no matter what other labels they may choose to wear. Of course the cap tells me nothing about the quality of their character, but when I see one it does tell me that there is a better than average chance that the wearer has needed to shade their eyes from the sun, has cranked a chainsaw or climbed a pole, or fished in a lake or stuck a paddle into a river, or hiked up a mountain, or stood at attention in formation and saluted the flag. All of God’s children have in common what is most important, but with some people you have to work harder to see it. For me, it just comes a little easier with the folks who wear baseball caps.

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