Grandpa’s Hats

I have two hats hanging up in my garage. They’re not where I can reach up and grab them to wear when I need them. They’re just there to help me remember.

These hats belonged to my grandfather. He was a World War 2 veteran, a hard worker, a fishing enthusiast, and a quiet, peaceful man.

One of them is a hard hat. He worked for many years for our state’s highway department. As a kid I was quick to play the cool grandpa card by injecting, “My Grandpa drives a dump truck.” In the early school years it is way cooler to drive a dump truck than to be a lawyer or accountant or most anything else.

When I look up and see that hard hat hanging there I am reminded that my Grandpa was a man well-acquainted with hard, sweaty, dusty work. I can see him coming in the back door, lunch box in hand. I can see the previous day’s freshly washed overalls hanging on the clothesline and work boots airing out on the back porch. I can smell the sweat and dust… but it’s not a bad smell—pungent but organic, earthy.

The other hat was his fishing hat. He wore a lot of those out over the years and probably lost at least one to bungling grandkids and their fish hooks gone awry. When it’s warm I can still smell him in the hat band of that old hat.

He was never what anyone would consider a wealthy man. I don’t think he ever even owned a house. He went to work and worked hard for his family. He kept going for decades for his family. He worked out in the scorching Oklahoma summers in those trucks with sticky vinyl seats and no air conditioning and endured the cold, blustery winds that come sweeping down the plains. There was never any question that he did it for all of us.

But the fishing he did with us. He took us and taught us and put up with us and endured us and loved us. My dad took us too, but my earliest fishing memories involved my Grandpa. I can still hear him call my name to come back toward him when I would wander too far down the dock for him to keep a good eye on me.

He worked for us.

He fished with us.

And when I look up at these two hats that still bear the marks of the same head, I remember the lesson he taught me without ever saying a word… which was his favorite way to teach.

He taught me to work hard FOR my family. You can’t always like everything about your work, but you must work hard for those who depend upon you. He showed me how to invest my sweat equity in my family.

He taught me to invest the rest of my time, as much as I possibly can, in working (and playing and generally living) WITH my family.

There were many other lessons he taught me… like being (almost irrationally) early for literally everything. But these hats hang in my garage as a silent reminder to pour myself out FOR and WITH the people that have been entrusted to my care.

I think he’d be proud. And that makes my heart smile.

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