“I don't know if I mentioned that I love this hat,” I said, for possibly the twentieth time.
“Do you?” said Marjorie, her voice ringing with innocence and irony. “I hadn't noticed.”
“Oh yes,” I said. “I love this hat.”
I didn't wear hats until about 20 years ago, when a dermatologist dabbed liquid nitrogen on the bridge of my nose to remove a pre-cancerous lesion.
“That's sun damage,” he said. “Over the years you'll probably develop a few more. Don't let the sun do any more damage to your face. Wear a hat.”
The threat of cancer quickly gets one's attention. I went hat-hunting, and soon discovered the Tilley hat, which Alex Tilley boasts is “the greatest adventure hat in the world.” I agree. I bought a white one, a blue one and a brown one, and I wore them all summer long, year after year. Eventually I gave the much-faded blue one to a friend who had done me huge favours. The brown one is still serving nobly. The white one has logged something over 10,000 miles at sea, and is about worn out. It's guaranteed for life. Alex Tilley will send me a new one if I send him the old one. Fat friggin' chance.
A Tilley hat won't do in a Canadian winter, but I found nothing else I really liked. Toques are scratchy, and they don't shade my face. A standard-issue baseball cap is no warmer than a Tilley. I have a huge Russian fur hat for really bitter weather. It makes me look like a fur-flavoured ice cream cone. I only wear it when survival trumps appearance.
My best all-purpose winter hats are what Marjorie derisively calls “goober hats” – insulated caps with flaps that can be turned down over my ears. I have a trim little black one that I wear often, and a bulkier dark blue one that I wear rarely, and a black one with a long, long bill and a chin strap that I hardly wear at all.
They're good warm hats, and Red Green would love them, but they don't accord with a suit and tie. They leave me sartorially-challenged at a symphony concert or a speaking engagement or a business meeting. But what else is there?
And then, one January day, my friend Ron Robichaud hove in view sporting a splendidly stylish full-brimmed hat made of heavy dark tweed, almost like a cloth fedora. Something about its cut and proportions gave the hat an indefinable air of insouciance and panache. Wearing that hat, Ron was hard-pressed not to swagger.
“Ron,” I said. “That hat. Marvellous. Where did you get it?”
“This?”said Ron, with an exceedingly smug smile. “It's a Tilley Winter Hat.”
A Tilley Winter Hat? I was instantly aflame with envy.
Marjorie was chortling. I never covet clothes. I'd sooner visit a dentist than a haberdasher. When she comes home from a retail raid bearing garments for me, I am downright churlish.
“Look at this lovely sweater I found for you!” she cries.
“I've already got a sweater,” I object.
“I got it at half price. Look at the colour. Isn't it beautiful?”
But now I was researching feverishly, and Marjorie was amused. The Tilley web site showed several dealers in Halifax. I went to The Binnacle. (Haberdasheries are one thing. Chandleries are quite another.) Late in the season, the hats were on sale. They came in chocolate brown and charcoal. I particularly liked the brown one, but the shop had no hats my size in either colour.
I phoned all around the city, looking for a 7 3/8” hat. No luck. Even Colwell Brothers had no Winter Hats left at all. Then I noticed a dealer named Atlantic Workwear in the Burnside industrial park – not a very likely source for insouciance and style, but I was desperate.
Jackpot. Having found that Tilley hats and orange safety vests did not make a coherent fashion statement, Atlantic Workwear were selling all their Tilleys at half-price. I scuttled over to Burnside and bought the only brown winter hat in my size – and a new khaki summer hat as well.
I enjoy the hat every time I wear it. Driving along, I'll turn to Marjorie and say, “Did you know I just love this hat?”
“Really?” she replies. “I hadn't noticed.”
So the other day I was playing one of my very favourite albums on the car stereo, Isaac Stern's Vivaldi Gala, with a star-studded cast of players – Perlman, Oistrakh, Rampal and the like. The music was rippling and glittering like sunlight on a mountain stream, and I was grooving.
“You know,” I said, “this music is just exquisite. What a pleasure to listen to it.”
“And in your hat...” said Marjorie, with a sly, sidelong smile. “Can life get any better?”
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