A moving van waits outside while I walk for the last time through my mother’s empty house, the place I once called home. When the screen door slams, my melancholy mood is temporarily interrupted. “You want this old box to go,” a mover asks.
It’s an old hatbox, faded and shabby with age. Seeing it again, pieces of my past suddenly come to life and I am swept back in time. It is the 1950s and hats are fashionable. Dressing up means Sunday clothes, white cotton gloves and a hat. I am thirteen and Mama lets me pick out my Easter bonnet for the first time. I fancy a large picture hat so I’ll look like Lana Turner. Mama begs to differ.
“Thirteen-year olds don’t wear picture hats. They wear straw hats with rosebuds on it like Margaret O’Brian.”
I pitched a fit, but she won, so off we went to find a straw hat with rosebuds on it, and that’s when hats began to represent seasons of growth in my life.
During my “Casablanca Period,” I learned to drive a car. Going for dramatic mystery during my “Ingrid Bergman Period,” I wore a French Beret. Heartbreak of first love ushered in the “Jane Wyman Period” when I wore a tam and tried to look noble. I styled my hair in a flip and wore pillbox hats in my “Jackie Kennedy Period.” It was the year I voted for the first time, the year I became a woman.
The old hatbox allows me to see myself back in my hometown looking at the Main Street of my past: the hardware store window decorated with artificial grass and the Easter Bunny pulling a wheelbarrow piled with garden tools; speckled malt balls on sale at the drug store; Easter Parade on the marquee at the movie theater. Faces from a distant past are etched in timeless clarity. The cop on the corner, the mayor strolling to his office, Old Blue — everybody’s street dog.
The clock outside the bank is chiming when I see my mother shopping for fabric to make me an Easter dress. I climb creaky, wooden stairs to the second floor of the department store and smell stale popcorn inside the dime store. Inhale the fragrance of warm bread while listening to my grandmother hum a hymn.
There are Easter Parades with pastel-decorated floats with kids running alongside catching hard candy thrown by the Easter Bunny. Reading the one newspaper in town, I see that a soldier’s homecoming made headlines. Kids join Scouts, and merchants close their stores every Wednesday afternoon and all day on Sunday.
The hatbox held by the mover twirls around as a look of impatience crosses his tired face. “Should I toss the box or what?”
Shaking my head no, I come back to the here and now, hungry for home-grown simplicity, essential food for my soul. “It’s not empty. That hatbox holds treasures I can never replace.”
There is a hatbox in everyone’s life.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.