The Red Hat Saga

A short story

by Joel Beeson

For many years I have needed to tell the story of Red Hat. It is a tale that cannot go untold. I fear that if this story is not shared with others, then I’ll never be able to find the rest my soul desires. You see Red Hat meant the world to me in a critical period of my life. It is the least I can do for Red Hat after all it has given me. The origins of the Red Hat are completely unknown to me. If anyone should know about the beginnings of Red Hat, it would be me because for a brief period of my life Red Hat dwelt with me. I am careful to not say that I owned Red Hat or that Red Hat belonged to me, because, as I begin to tell you about Red Hat you will clearly see that no mortal man could ever possess or control that kind of magical power. It might be said that Red Hat owned me during this time.  My best guess is that the beginning of Red Hat goes back thousands of years adorning the heads of chosen individuals that needed its power at just the right time. Boys that seemed to have lost their way in the struggle for finding manhood. Perhaps Julius Caesar wore the Red Hat for a period as he was forged into become a warrior at a young age. He would have shared RED Hat with his dear orphaned friend Brutus. Or maybe Abraham Lincoln wore Red Hat as he chopped wood on the frontier of a new country.  I don’t know these stories, but I’ll tell you mine.

In the summer of 1968, I was one of perhaps millions of confused souls. I was approaching manhood in a new era.  A world different than my parents faced. A new world filled with wonderful things. None of these things were within my grasp because… I was adrift on a violent sea of confusion. A soul that had lost hope is like a ship without a rutter. You see at the end of my eighth-grade year I lost my girlfriend. My reason to live had vanished and I had no idea why. As it happened there was just one week of school left and of course there were several parties. Nobody got invitations to parties, that was a custom that our parents had. The word just got out around the school, and you went to whatever party you wanted. The girl I was in love with was having one of these parties at her house on a Friday night. It was going to be epic. When I arrived, we gathered in the back yard, where everyone was milling around. There were tables set with snacks and speakers were hung in the trees and around the yard. Music was already playing. As I wondered around talking to friends, I noticed the back door to the house open and a couple of girls came out headed directly for me. I recognized them as friends with my girl. I figured they had a message for me. I smiled as I saw them approach, they were headed towards me for sure. Then the look on their faces let me know that I had misread the situation. 

The message they gave me is too painful to relate in detail, but the summary of it was that my girl didn’t like me anymore. She wanted me to leave so she wouldn’t be uncomfortable at her own party. What about how I felt? They delivered the message and went back into the house to report what had been said. I left the yard by jumping the back fence. I watched for a few minutes in the dark shadows of the overgrown bushes, hoping to discover the one that replaced me. But tears filled my eyes until I couldn’t see. I walked home with my thoughts torturing me. 

“What is wrong with you?” I asked myself over and over never getting the right answer. It could have been any number of things. I’m not a good-looking guy. I’m not popular enough.  My parents don’t have a lot of money. I’m not a snappy dresser. I had no clue.   

The next morning was Saturday. I had my mother cut off all my hair. The way I used to wear it in the Summer when I was a small boy. Then I went into the bathroom and used my father’s electric razor to shave my head. The way the monks in a monastery did. I was withdrawing from society and what better way to proclaim this to the world than to shave my head. The problem was that the following Monday at school the opposite reaction occurred. I got so much attention that I became a distraction. The kids loved it and spent the day rubbing my head. One teacher sent me to the office, but there was no dress code violation they could find, so they sent me back to class. Alas, withdrawing from society wasn’t working. I’ve always known I was a very social person, so withdrawing was never really a good plan. 

School was out at the end of that week, and many of my friends would be going to a different high school. The realization of this added to my depression.  Along with the trauma that I already had, my father decided we would change churches again and return to First Baptist Church in South Houston where we had always attended, except for a brief three-year period that we went to Queens Road Baptist. In my family church attendance was a major part of our lives. It was during this transitional period of my life that the Red Hat appeared.

At first for me wearing Red Hat was an attention getting ploy, but it grew into much more as my confidence grew.  My mother didn’t understand why I would want to wear a shabby old worn-out hat, but she said little about it.  I think my father enjoyed it, not because it gave me powers, but because it looked ridiculous. He was always in favor of a good joke.  My best friend Don often wore the hat too.  He looked better in it than I did with his hair grow out for the summer as it flipped up under Red Hat, plus he had a full beard by the end of July, so he looked like a fully dressed hippy. My favorite attire that summer was a white tea shirt under a wool lined leather vest, old blue jeans, bare feet, and Red Hat. 

Red Hat travelled with us on our annual family trip to Arkansas and proved to be just as powerful in that state as it was in Texas.  My cousins enjoyed wearing Red Hat from time to time.  In August things were going much better for me my confidence had returned. I had football practice at the high school, which was no fun, but I was meeting a lot of new kids. We were already back in the youth group and church and one little girl that had come to the church while I was away thought I was interesting, so I had that going on. I tried out for the acapella choir at school and made it.  Thanks mostly to my brother who was an excellent musician and Mrs. Garner loved me, she was my choir teacher at Queens and good friends with Mr. Myers. Of course, in know that Red Hat was the main reason that my mojo had returned.   

One Saturday night right before school was scheduled to begin Don and I planned an evening at Teen Hall. A new night spot in Freeway Manor that was drawing lots of local kids. My father had not heard of the place yet. If he knew it was a place where kids went to dance, he’d have been against it. So, it was better he didn’t know anything about it. I needed to be careful how I approached the subject. I decided to just tell him we were going to a party. After all it was sort of a party atmosphere.

“Daddy, Don, and I are going to a party. His dad is taking us and picking us up. We won’t be too late,” I announced.

“No, you’re not.  You are going to keep your sister tonight.  We are playing bridge,” he said.

He did not even look up from his paper.  He loved his Houston Chronical and it had just arrived.  Daddy went through his daily paper with the same attention a medieval monk would pour over the holy scriptures. 

“I kept her last night.  Let Paul do it,” I replied. 

That was a bad argument on my part but it’s all I had on the cuff it took me by surprise. You see Paul would have never been left in charge my parents knew from experience that my brother was not responsible. He had many fine qualities but being responsible was not one of them. It was always me.  My parents knew Paul too well to leave him in charge. But that’s all I could come up with. Daddy pulled the paper down and looked over the top of it as I was going to my room to put on my party outfit. He had probably finished that article. 

“Paul is going out,” he said.

That should have ended it in his mind. 

“Then Paul can change his plans. I’m going out. It’s not fair that I must always keep her while the rest of you do whatever you want. I kept her last night and the night before. Why is it always me that must stay home? I will be glad when I’m seventeen because as soon as I turn seventeen, I’m out of here,” I said.

Daddy went back to reading the paper and said casually, “You don’t need to wait until then.”

“Good I said,” I said.

I went to my room and closed the door. Daddy figured I was just cooling off.  But I had other plans. I got dressed, put on Red Hat and went out the garage door while he was studying the political commentaries (his favorite section). I was off to Don’s house. About an hour latter he and I were walking into Teen Hall. I should have been worried and filled with guilty and regret.  But I wasn’t Red Hat was giving me the confidence that I needed. I was a on my own now it was my life now and I was going to enjoy it. Meeting new girls and doing my best to impress them. Red Hat was perfect there. All the British Rock bands were wearing strange head gear and Red Hat was just the ticket. The power of Red Hat was more than sufficient to ensure us of a good that night. On the way home riding in the back seat of Mr. Meador’s 1957 black and while Impala the question of my recent liberty was raised.

“Your brother came over asking if I knew where you were.  Did you tell your parents where you were going out?” he asked.

“Yes, sir I did,” I said.

Which was partially true. He just looked at me for a few minutes in the mirror, then looked at Don who shrugged. And that was the end of that conversation. When we got to the neighborhood I got out of their car and walked down the street away from my house.  Never looking back.  I had no idea where I was going. But I was a free man. Daddy must have been looking out the front window because by the time I got to Avenue A he was driving up. 

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Not sure right now, but I told you I’m leaving, and I meant it,” I said. 

Red hat and I walked away from the 1965 Ford Galaxy with all the confidence of a true victor. Red Hat’s protective powers were all I needed. 

“Do you want to come home and talk about it?” my Daddy asked.

“Talk about what,” I replied.

“Where you are going, and what you will do,” he said.

Not a bad reply by my father because I did need to think about what I would do. I think it was then, that very second, that I became a man.  I stopped and looked at him for a few minutes without any fear or intimidation that a fifteen-year-old should have. I got into the car, and we went home. Daddy ended up apologized for the way he had handle the situation when we first got to the house. We decided together that I would not be moving out that day. The way daddy framed it was that I was too important to the overall welfare of the house.  That incident was never

mentioned again. 

The rest of my freshman year in high school Red Hat was part of my life, it would often disappear visiting my friend’s homes where it was obviously needed.  Then as strangely as it appeared in my life it was gone.  But the results of it being with me never left.  Red Hat worked its magic on me. Then I’m sure it moved on to accompany some other poor lost soul into manhood.