I love cloche hats.
They take my mind to hot summer afternoons on dusty prairie roads past golden waves of wheat fields. I imagine myself wearing a cotton summer dress and leather sandals; the dress sticking to my sweaty back and my feet dusty with the prairie dirt. I can imagine myself picking peas and later, shelling them while I am sitting on an old kitchen chair that someone has brought outside to escape the stifling heat inside the house.
I have a black felt cloche hat that I bought on impulse one day when the fantasy overcame my common sense. It sits on the shelf in my coat closet and every time I see it I am transported to the prairie. I wanted to wear it when we flew to Canada to see the kids at Christmas. I imagined myself in the airport: knitting, glasses pushed down on my nose, a Vera Bradley bag next to me, wearing the cloche hat. The quintessential grandma.
But the cloche hat stayed home. At fifty-one I have gained a measure of chutzpa, but not quite enough for me to don the treasured cloche hat. For one thing, it’s black and I imagine it should be worn with a black coat; I don’t own a black coat at the moment and it would have looked foolish with my white Gap puffy vest.
I am on the look-out for a cloche hat that will fit with what I wear on a day-to-day basis and the other day I was in Macy’s and I found a candidate. It was off-white and knit; I thought it might work with my white Gap puffy vest so I reached for it. I touched it, I picked it up, I pictured that dusty prairie road, and then I put it back on the shelf. You’re being foolish and impulsive, I told myself. You don’t need this cloche hat.
A small oriental lady was also looking at the hats and she picked up the cloche hat after I put it down. She gestured to the hat she had on her head; it was dark blue but similar in style to the off-white cloche hat she held in her hand. She smiled at me, twenty-five percent off, she said in broken English.
We stood together for a moment, she with the off-white cloche hat in her hand, me looking casually at other, less-attractive hats on display. Then, she put the cloche hat back on the shelf.
I will go and finish my shopping and if I come back and it is still here I will buy it. I made a deal with myself and stepped away from the display.
The little oriental woman reached for the cloche hat as I stepped away from the display. Shoot, I exclaimed to myself as I considered that she might be ready to purchase the hat.
I browsed the display of hosery while taking surruptitious glances at the woman who now had the off-white cloche hat in one hand and appeared to be getting ready to try it on. I watched as she ducked behind a pole where there was a mirror and, somewhat shyly, removed the dark blue hat she was wearing.
Her head was entirely bald.
She put the off-white cloche hat on her head and turned her face left, then right and she seemed pleased by the way the hat looked on her head.
I could only speculate about the reason for her baldness but as I watched her with the off-white cloche hat on her head her countenance seemed to brighten at the prospect of a new hat to replace her dark blue one. I smiled to myself, said a silent prayer for her, and went about my business.
Later, as my path to leave the store took me past the hat display I couldn’t help but look; the off-white cloche hat was gone. As it was meant to be.