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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fur Hat

by Barbara Harroun

y father made me the fur hat in late 1984 or early 1985. I was ten. My body was beginning to betray me: puberty.

The hat was hand stitched, made from the gray fox collar of a woman’s coat culled from a Salvation Army. The fur, fine and soft, wrapped around the circumference of my head, with a skull cap of the softest doe skin, dyed a deep brown. Later I’d find out my father had boiled the hide in walnut hulls to achieve the chocolate hue. Inside, the hat was quilted satin, a glossy tan.

Originally, the hat also had soft strips of leather that tied beneath my chin. One snapped off when Matt Brenner took my hat in a game of keep away. He spun the hat around, out of my reach, and the lace snapped and the hat went flying. He was as shocked as I was, more so when I punched him in the stomach. His breath came out in a soft, “Oof.”

Strangers reached out and skimmed their hands along the hat, no matter that it was on my head. I remember the kids in my class asking where I’d gotten it, and I explained my father made it. It was the only one of its kind. One girl asked if he’d make her one. “No,” I said. It is quite possible I narrowed my eyes as I answered.

I was better at kick ball in that hat. A faster runner. A better story teller. More myself.

I wore my hat until it fell apart. I slept with the remaining segment of fox fur, pressed my face to it at night. It took me through sixth grade, rode with me until the body I had was no longer new and terrifying.


y father can wear a hat. From him, I learned that you wear a hat as if a simple extension of yourself, keeping your head warm with panache. My Grandpa Ryan was also a natural. He wore hats that accented his dancer’s posture, and complimented his crisp white pants, his brightly checkered summer shirts, ironed so thoroughly each sleeve had an equator. When he died, my auntie asked if there was anything of his I wanted. In one closet, on the third floor of his South Boston home, there was a fur hat with earflaps that called up for me the hat my father made. My grandfather, I was told, wore this hat skiing. In the winter, now a woman edging toward forty, I put it on and I am warmed by it. Even now, I am still partly that ten year-old girl, terrified of growing up and astounded by a father’s extraordinary gift.

My own daughter is now ten. She adores my grandfather’s fur hat. She wears and delights in it. I want to give her the same kind of gift my father gave me. Something that warms her, shields her from the cold, and empowers her. Something tangible to aid her in becoming who she is. It was a hat my father made me, but truly it was a bridge to who I’d become, a compass, a talisman, and an abiding comfort when my own body was an uncomfortable, seemingly dangerous terrain to inhabit. This winter, I’ll give my daughter the hat and I’ll tell her the story. Once I was scared, deeply uncertain, and my father made me a fur hat.

Barbara Harroun is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University where she teaches creative writing and composition. Her work has appeared in the Sycamore Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Buffalo Carp, Friends Journal, In Quire, Bird's Thumb, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Requited Journal, Festival Writer, and Red Wolf Journal. It is forthcoming in i70 Review, Sugared Water, Per Contra, The Riveter Review, Catch and Release, Pea River Journal, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, and Mud Season Review. She lives with her favorite creative endeavors, Annaleigh and Jack, and her awesome husband, Bill.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Bestest Mommy

by Hazel Smith

I’m the mommy and so I am the smartest bestest mostest good cook in the world and my beautiful little boys tell me so and I am better than Laura and better than Mrs. Dyck and certainly better than the soccer coach and the violin teacher who are not the bestest at all.

And I make Peppy Pancakes with healthy ingredients, and, since there are healthy ingredients in the pancakes, we smother them with butter and syrup and we get sticky and we always burn the last batch because we forget to take them off the griddle.

And I’m the mommy and Jennifer is pretty and Mrs. Roelfsma is smart and the band teacher is a favorite, but I am still the one they greet after school with a hug.

And I make Peppy Pancakes with healthy ingredients and one kid likes Aunt Jemima syrup and one kid likes corn syrup and we get sticky and I hear tales about school … sometimes.

And I’m the mommy and Patti is awesome and college is GREAT and kayaking is the new pastime, but I am still the one waiting at the door on weekends and we ALWAYS make Peppy Pancakes and we don’t burn the last batch because the two man-boys eat them all up but now I am lactose intolerant so we don’t use butter and the man-boys stick up their noses at margarine and they have a new affinity for maple syrup.

And I make Peppy Pancakes because Son #1 is bringing home Whatshername. I don’t bother learning their names anymore because none of them seem to grab his heart and stick around for long. We sit at the dining room table on our best behavior and I explain to her that there are only healthy ingredients in these
these pancakes so it is OK to smother them with syrup and when they are all eaten, my son says, “Thanks Mom. Great meal!” and I am once again the smartest bestest mostest good cook in the world … until he deflates my balloon with the words that ensure that I will no longer be a necessary part of his pancake life. “Could you please email me the recipe?”

And my face changes. I don’t want him to have the recipe. I don’t want him to cook Peppy Pancakes and maybe make changes to the recipe, maybe make them even better than I do. I want him to come home and enjoy my pancakes. “What’s the matter?” he queries.

“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all.” I manage a smile. Bestest mommies can do that. They know how to smile when inside they are sad. He looks at me quizzically, aware he has said something that is bothering me, but he can’t figure out what that could be. I smile bigger. “I’ll scan in the recipe and send it to you. No problem.”

And I do. And I have a little cry all by myself and a few tears fall down onto the scanner and maybe make their way into the recipe and through cyber space and stay with the recipe when it reaches my son, although I think it really only arrives with lots of love and good wishes.

And I do learn the newest one’s name! She is called Claire and she is very pretty and she comes with attachments. She has a small son and a smaller daughter. They are too young to remember their parents’ divorce, but I can tell that she has done a good job in raising them. They are polite and they are gentle with the cat. I watch my son interact with them and I realize that he must be modeling himself after someone because he is kind but firm and I can tell they like him and he likes them. And he has brought them all for Peppy Pancakes, and I start to tell Claire about how they are only made with healthy ingredients so it is OK to put lots of syrup on them, and she says, “I know. I’ve heard all about them. And I’ve heard nobody in the world can make them like you do!”

And I take out my electric griddle and assemble the ingredients and it is very hard to do because my feet are not touching the floor and I am floating around

the kitchen in a haze of love and with the realization that my son has done something beautiful for me and that indeed I am the bestest mostest wonderfullest mommy in the world. And that makes me very happy indeed.

Hazel Smith is the bestest mommy, but now that her sons are in their 30’s, she no longer can fix problems with a kiss and a cookie. Newly retired, she has returned to an earlier love of writing. When her kids were younger, she was published regularly, but somehow got out of the habit of scratching down her thoughts and sending them off to editors. A recent article about her grandfather’s pioneering days in Western Canada, published in an anthology of women’s writing, has changed that. She lives with her husband and their cat; the husband is quite self-sufficient; the cat requires constant snuggles.