Every year at Halloween, Dad would pull out the giant sombrero he’d won once on a trip to Mexico. While we kids would get dressed up, applying face paint, leotards, swords and sashes, to perfect our costumes, Dad would go to the garage where he stored the sombrero, neatly packed in leftover plastic wrapping from the cleaners. At trick-or-treat time, he’d don the yellow velvet hat with the enormous brim and delicate gold stitching, and every year, we kids would laugh and say “Ole,” though we didn’t exactly know what that meant. Dad was an odd sort who kept to himself. Sometimes he’d yell in a quick, high-pitched voice if we leaned our hands on the walls or forgot to wipe our feet at the door. Mostly, he didn’t say too much. But at Halloween, Dad would grin a goofy grin umbrellaed by the sombrero, the string of it tucked neatly under his chin, and though we still had to tread carefully around him, we felt reassured that he loved us.
A few months after Dad died, my brother, sister and I headed to the house to help Mom clear it and ready it for sale. I volunteered to cover the garage, while the others tackled various rooms inside. Neatly stored away, on shelves of the garage, were boxes of Dad’s things. Birthday cards we’d made him as kids, his softened leather work gloves, rusted tools he’d use to annually tune up our bikes, a couple of his old cardigans. It didn’t take long for me to move aside a dusty pile of boxes and discover the sombrero. The plastic that protected it was caked in dirt, but I carefully peeled back the layers, unearthing the ancient artifact. There it was, yellow and bright as a field of mustard. I sat on a work stool and fingered the wide brim. Then, I put on the hat and sat like that for some time.
That night, when we’d finished sorting boxes for donating and boxes for the trash, I repacked the sombrero into the folds of plastic just as Dad had many years before and put it in my car. Once home, I cleared a spot for it on a metal shelf in the back of my garage.
Some weeks later, when I was taking out the trash, I noticed that the sombrero had been stuffed into the bin. I grabbed it and raced into the house to my husband who was standing at the fridge. He peeked out from behind the door.
“It was my dad’s,” I said. The brim teetered on my fingers.
“You don’t really need to keep it, do you? It’s junking up the garage.” He shrugged and buried his face deep inside the fridge.
“He did love us—” I began, and stopped myself.
I turned, walked down the hall and out the front door. Standing alone on the driveway, I gazed into the crown of the sombrero. Just then, some writing on the inside rim caught my eye. Very faintly, “FOR THE KIDS” was scrawled in ball point pen in Dad’s shaky handwriting. I hugged the old hat into me. It was big and stiff and heavy in my arms. Then, I walked to the garbage bin, folded back the lid and carefully tucked the sombrero inside.
At seven o’clock, the garbage truck arrived screaming along our street, screeching to a halt in front of the trash can with that silly, rollicking, ebullient hat. I watched out the window as the monster machine scooped up the bin, dumped it, and methodically crushed its contents. Then, it revved its engine, roared like a lion and moved along the boulevard.
Elana Shira Segal is a therapist from Toronto, Ontario who helps people shape the narrative of their own lives.