I have never really been much of a hat wearer, even in the most Arctic of weather. It has to get really, really cold for me to want to risk getting “hat hair.”
But when the temperatures really do plunge, I have a special hat I trot out for the occasion.
Maybe once a season, I will wear what looks like a bear’s head.
The black fur sits snugly on my head and the bill features a bear’s eyes, snout and open, teeth-baring mouth.
I’ve worn it proudly in public much to the mortification of my boys and to the astonishment of some of my co-workers. It’s a fun conversation piece.
It didn’t start out that way though.
My fiancée got it for me about 14 years ago at the gift shop at Bear Mountain in the Hudson Valley in New York.
I remember at the time being a bit peeved that she was spending so much money on it, given that I hardly wear hats to begin with, much less one that was so silly.
In my Teutonic view, this hat was an impractical indulgence.
But Carla bought it nonetheless. She had an aptitude for whimsy, for seizing the moment and for making the most of it.
That, in turn, meant she had a way of busting me out of my shell and for helping me take myself less seriously.
This explains how there are photos of me with an owl perched on my shoulder leaning into my cheek (a birds of prey exhibit at a Fourth of July fair), how I got temporary tattoos (another country fair) and how we ended up celebrating Halloween like it was a high holy day, complete with Carla dressing up like a vampire.
Such was her spirit.
At one point, we bought a hat shaped like a birthday cake, complete with upright candles. In our home, whoever was celebrating their birthday had to wear that hat when it came time to blow out the candles on their cake.
I have many photos of family and friends sporting that goofy hat.
But that bear hat –- that crazy, expensive, silly bear hat — far and away, takes pride of place.
One of my favorite photos of Carla is of her peering over her glasses, standing in front of our Christmas tree wearing that bear hat.
About six years after she bought me that hat –- on Nov. 30, 2006, to be precise — Carla died.
Though it’s eight years-plus since she died, and I have since then been extraordinarily blessed to be united with my best beloved, Meg, and to be married, I still grieve for Carla.
So on the occasions that I bust out that bear hat, it reminds me of Carla.
It makes me smile, it allows me to fondly remember her and it makes me glad that she bought it over my misgivings.
That bear hat warms my head. And my heart.