My Father’s Hat

by Jean Ringland

From Paperbarks

A faded photo falls from the album,
my father, face shaded, in his felt hat,
an akubra perhaps……

In infant years, I don’t remember the hat
only my father’s soft brown hair
glistening with Brylcreem, or flopping
in his eyes as he played cricket with the boys
and I was banished to keep score.
Later he would rest on the back step,
cigarette in stained fingers, thumb
resting on his cheek, as smoke drifted.
Sometimes he strummed on the mandolin
while my mother sang softly in the kitchen.

He walked across the paddocks bare-headed
to bring us home from school.
I remember my dad well, the man
who read me Rhymes of the Red Cross Man.
He wore his hat only on important occasions;
trips to cheer on the local football team,
a drive to town to thrill to ‘Rin-Tin-Tin’
visits to the doctor for broken limbs or belly aches.
all this before a carefree country life became our past.

Drought, depression, ‘susso’, ‘laid off,’
new words we learned, as hand-me-downs
were grudgingly accepted and waste became a sin.
With passing years and steady work
a new hat, to be worn daily with suit and tie,
became a fixture on the hall stand;
along with carpets to cover bare boards,
lounge chairs, beach holidays
and school fees paid on time.

We children learned to understand hat messages;
a jaunty angle brought lollies in the pockets
and laughter at the table, brow lower – serious times,
a need for long discussions before homework and bed.
Lower still – late home, the stumble in the hall
and my mother, frozen faced, serving the meal
in silence, while little ones, bewildered,
dared not drop a spoon or spill their milk.

Long after the funeral, when Mum and the house had shrunk,
his hat remained, hanging by the well-worn gabardine,
a garment we grabbed on bleak days for walks
through Eastern Park or a quick dash to the shops.
It was the wild and beautiful granddaughter
who finally claimed the battered hat.
She wore it at a jaunty angle,
packed her swag and left to travel North.