When the kids were much less tall than they are today, we often read a book by Jan Brett, called The Mitten.
It was… well, it is (I haven’t read it in a few or many years)… a book about a little boy named Nikki, who drops a white mitten in the snow. He realizes he has lost his mitten, and searches the woods for it. Jan Brett’s illustrations are amazing, and Nikki’s search is actually depicted in the intricate borders of the pages, surrounding the main action.
What’s the main action?
The main action is that a cute and curious little mole finds the mitten, and crawls inside. Then, if I remember right, a rabbit, then a hedgehog… and then larger animals, right up until a bear makes his way into the now well-stretched mitten. I won’t ruin it for you.
Okay, there’s a huge sneeze.
That’s it. I’m not telling you any more.
Jan Brett also wrote a book about a hat, but it isn’t about everyone climbing inside a hat. So, when I look at that hat up there… that one, up top there… I don’t think of her book about a hat.
I think of the one about the mitten, and just substitute the little white hat…
I imagine The Hat lying on the ground, it’s much bigger than me.
It’s winter. Snow is falling.
The snowflakes are huge, and silent, and all around me.
The air is so cold and tastes like the air of my childhood freezer, when I would stick my head inside it on a hot summer day. But it doesn’t smell the same. The winter air smells like pine and spruce and fir.
The snow is so new, it doesn’t crunch when I walk on it. It feels more like walking through Johnson’s Baby Powder.
Suddenly, The Hat is in front of me.
I’m so cold, and it looks soft and warm.
I make my way over and lift the top of it, to see inside.
There is no fire, no hearth, and yet there is a glow. It beckons me.
I take off my boots and leave them at the entry. My socks are thick, and it feels so good to step onto and into the hat and sit. I lean back. I can see the snow falling outside through the opening I’ve come through.
And then I wait.
Soon, I can hear JoHn’s footsteps.
He leans into the opening and smiles, and asks if he can come inside. I smile and say of course he can.
Soon Mac and Jack…
We are, all of us, in the hat together.
Laughing and joking and telling stories about nothing, that mean everything.
In The Hat.
Where we can feel her, and Grampa too, the way we always did… and do… and will.
The Hat was kind of a signature look for Granny for many winters in a row. I remember thinking it was a bit of a cobbler’s kid hat, in that she was a prolific knitter (and a really good one), but this was a hat she picked up along her travels. Nothing special that has bloomed into something precious.
I can see her in it… with her green ‘everyday’ winter coat, and her orange ‘not so cold’ jacket. She wore The Hat a lot.
She wore it on her last day.
I can’t remember when it was, exactly, that I found it… after that last day, I mean. But I do remember exactly where I put it, in a basket in the laundry room where I would see it every time I went in to fold or toss or launder.
This might seem an odd place to put a precious item, but – when we were talking about living together in 1993 – Granny insisted her job would be ‘the laundry’. She loved it, she said. It relaxed her, she said. I hate it, I said. So I – yep – had a laundress for years and years. Well. Not all year, every year. Until 2014, Granny and Grampa would head down to Florida after Christmas and return in April (before Tax Day because Grampa didn’t trust mailing his tax forms in from Florida (nope, not kidding)). When they left, JoHn and I used to sigh. We’d miss them, sure. But also? We had to do our own laundry.
Oh the humanity.
That’s one of the memories we might be chuckling about, all together in The Hat.
I took The Hat from the laundry room as I was decorating for Christmas. I was feeling Granny so strongly, so present in the my amblings as I hung and placed and smiled and plugged in and lit up and marveled at the magic of another Christmastime.
I placed The Hat on a hook nearest the side door, and draped one of my softest scarves, one she always complimented, beneath it. Then Granny whispered to my heart that it needed a Christmas something. So I hung the bell that JoHn and the kids gave me for my birthday this year.
And each time I see it, I think of Jan Brett’s story of the woodland animals climbing inside, all together.
It’s not really The Hat, I know.
The Hat is really… The Memory.
Big, and welcoming, and warm enough for us all to climb inside no matter where we are.
With room for everyone, always.
Even if one of us sneezes.
Thanks for readin’.
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