My old friend wore a lot of hats.
He worked as a gold miner before he went off to fight in the Army in the second World War. He earned himself more than a few medals and swept a beautiful young girl off her feet at the USO. A glimpse of her smile melted his heart down into his combat boots, and he came home and married her.
Later on, he drove an old green truck hauling logs. A guy can still hear old truckers out west spin yarns about a death-defying trek he took with his load through a treacherous mountain pass. He helped build a barge that was a part of the construction of the Alaskan pipeline. He ran a grain elevator, and built his own motel.
When he retired, he bought a dairy farm in South Dakota.
True, my friend wore a lot of hats. But the old cowboy wore only two Stetsons.
If you stopped at the farm to visit, you’d find him tinkering. He might be trying to rebuild his barn that burned down. Or maybe he was working in the garden. He’d be busy with his hands. And he’d be wearing his old work Stetson, worn soft and stained with dirt and sweat.
But when he came to town for church, his bride made sure he’d spiffed himself up. Those days he wore a crisp, clean Stetson — the one he stored in the box except when they went somewhere special. The Sunday Go to Meetin’ hat.
Then he got sick, to the point where he was in the hospital more than home, so his family moved him back to the farm, where he wanted more than anything to be. His sweet wife of 64 years pulled in close, waiting and watching until the very end.
When we all got together to send him off, the cowboy’s Stetsons stood vigil on the altar at the front of the church. After a fitting tribute to the man of myths and legends, their children helped his delicate bride to her feet. As she passed by the altar, she lifted the crumpled felt hat in her hands and held it to her face.
Whether she meant to brush past it with a kiss or take in the scent of her cowboy one last time, she clutched the battered hat that embodied her groom, now absent, then laid it back to rest on the table and turned to go.
Photo: Ride the sunset by Omar Franco