Like most people, I wear many hats. This requires me to have many hats.
I’m a husband and dad. I have a job. I have a garden. I like to work on our old house — to my best abilities as an English major. Actually, English majors make pretty good home renovators. If you can diagram a sentence and untangle a James Joyce novel, believe me, you can install a toilet.
Next to a pocketknife, there’s not a better all-around tool to carry with you on your day’s work than a hat. Its uses and benefits are many. For a lot of us, putting on a ball cap is as much a part of getting dressed as putting on socks.
I’m mainly a live-and-let live kind of guy when it comes to flying insects, but if I’m in tight quarters and a bee or fly starts buzzing around my head, a hat becomes a ready flyswatter.
On hot days, a ball cap keeps the sweat from running into your eyes. Absorbency is a much-overlooked quality when it comes to selecting a hat. Soak it with water, and it’s a natural air conditioner. A hat keeps the glare out of your eyes and the sun from beating down on your head.
On cold days, it helps keep your brain warm. On rainy or snowy days, it keeps some of the precipitation out of your face.
Working around briars and low-hanging branches, it saves your noggin from scratches. Pulled down over your eyes after lunch, a hat turns out the lights for a midday catnap.
My grandpa wore many hats — factory worker, truck driver, farmer, auction-goer, fixer of broken tractors, bluegill fisherman. I don’t think I ever saw him leave the house without his green workman’s ball cap — and I can vividly remember the day I got one just like it when I was a kid. I wore that hat out.
Hats make excellent impromptu baskets for bringing a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes up from the garden for dinner, for picking berries, for collecting loose nuts and assorted parts from the lawnmower or bathroom sink you are working on.
There is also the intangible benefit of a hat — thoughtfully taking it off and scratching your head when presented with a problem such as a stuck bolt, an uncooperative machine, a mathematical calculation or a paragraph that falls flat. Somehow, it helps. A favorite work hat is like an old friend who helps you get out of a jam.
There are other times to remove one’s cap, of course: entering a church or courthouse, for the National Anthem, for prayer, for dinner. Although, I have been known to remove my hat long enough for table grace, and then put it back on. I figure the rudeness of wearing a hat at the dinner table is preferable to the sight of my sweaty, grimy, mussed-up hair when I’ve just come inside from doing a dirty job.
All this requires me to maintain an inventory of hats — mostly ball caps — each with its own special use. My wife probably could deduce my plans for the day based on the hat I pull out of the closet.
The paint-spattered hat? Self-explanatory, of course. Stocking cap? I’m headed out into the cold for a while to split wood or plow the driveway. Old, clean cap? Covers early morning bed-head when I sit down at the computer to work or need to run an errand in town. New, clean cap? Worn to formal occasions, such as family picnics, the fair and baseball games. Dirt-stained ball cap? You may not want to know. Could be any messy, greasy, filthy, sweaty job.
And people in ball caps tend to be just as useful as their hats. When you’re in trouble, when you need a hand moving a heavy object, when you could use an assist in changing a tire or fixing a fence, there’s almost always a guy in a hat you know you could call on to help.
So, to my fellow ball cap wearers out there, I tip my hat.
Don’t mind the messy hair.
Contact John Gladden at email@example.com.