The Panama Straw

Robert B. McMullan 


© Copyright 1998 by Robert B. McMullan

Robert, his wife, and the Panama hat..

Because of my ruddy complexion and tendency to sunburn I have always worn hats or caps when I knew I was going to be in the sun for more than a few minutes.

During my very early years I wore a sun bonnet that my mother made for me like the one she wore. I now have one of those as a valued keep sake.

On the farm I wore big straw hats with the brims pulled down for maximum protection. This was done by soaking the brim and keeping it down as desired while it dried.

When I became an adult I wore the hats that tended to be the current style, "felt" in winter and "straw" in summer.

During the fall of my first year as a civilian, after four years in the air force, an ad in the local daily paper caught my eye. "All Straw Hats One Half Regular Price!" I was there as soon as possible. Almost immediately one caught my attention. "This is one of our very finest," the clerk explained. "It is genuine Panama and bears the label of one of the best known manufacturers." I tried it on and it felt as if it had been made for me. Did I ever feel dressed up in it! At full price I would not have given it a second thought. But, at half price it was soon in a shopping bag and on its way home with me.

I left it in its box and stored on a top shelf of the closet. It remained there until the next spring except for the several times I got it down and admired it nested snuggly in its box during the cold days of winter.

At last the perfect spring day came! The hat went on my head for a shopping trip to town which was some ten miles away. On the way we would have passed near my brother-in-law's farm. My wife suggested that we stop to see if they wanted us to bring them anything from town. Jack asked me to come see his old sow and her new litter of pigs. As we stood by the fence watching the cute babies, a gust of wind caught my new hat. It landed right side up in the center of a very soupy hog wallow. In a moment I was over the fence and had rescued my hat. The bottom of the entire brim was coated with the soupy mud. I rushed to the pump and washed it off as best I could, under the cold water. All of the surface soil washed away easily away. When it dried there was some gray that had not come out from deep grooves within the fine woven straw. The hat never again had that wonderful look of a new Panama.

We made the trip to town and bought the few items we needed. We were back home just as lunch was almost ready. My wife’s teenage youngest brother was down at the creek fishing. I picked up my rod and reel and went down to tell him that it was almost time for lunch. As he told me of his experiences of the morning my hat blew off my head and into the steady flowing stream. Off it went setting high on its way down stream. I tried to cast to it with a lure with treble hooks. Within a few casts I hooked it, but in the process of pulling it ashore against the flow of the water, it lost some of its original shape.

When I got it home I shaped it as best I could and placed small weights on and around it to hold it as it dried. It turned out wearable. In fact, I wore it for several years. But, I could never be really proud of it as I had planned to be. I was never aware of envious eyes looking at it.

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