My brother's hat mourns his death


Old Irish cap and glass of GuinnessMy brother died a year ago, and in that year people have asked me, here and there, always tenderly, always with real interest, which is a sweet gift, what do you miss most about him?

And for a while I would say things like his false gruffness, or the way his stern glare would suddenly give way to a shy smile like sun through a hedge, or the way no man on earth ever loved making sandwiches in the kitchen as much as he did, and nobody over the age of eight more enjoyed a glass of milk with his sandwich either.

But now I find myself saying things like the way his moustache was bristling and adamant under the prow of his nose, or the way his hair would not stay combed even though the man was in his 60s for heaven's sake, or the way his shoes as big as boats waited for him in the slanting sunlight of the mudroom of his house where hung also his caps and hats, and do we ever think about what a worn familiar old cap might feel, having lost the head that loved it for 30 years?

Do we?

If you were a worn familiar lovely old Irish cap, and you had waited anxiously all night every night for 30 years for the blessing of the morning when he would reach for you and knead you with real affection and something almost like reverence for the way you sheltered his tumultuous head for 30 years, and then fold you gently over his ungovernable hair and down over the prow of his nose, and away with the two of ye into the wind and the rain, voyaging across campus and through the woods and around the town, until the moment when he stepped back into the mudroom, and removed you, and shook the holy water from you, and hung you again on the poke of your peg, wouldn't you wonder where he was the first few days after he vanished, and then feel something like a silent sadness, and wonder if he would ever again knead you and don you and doff you and reach for you with real affection and something almost like reverence?

We are so sure that we are the only ones who feel things, but how very wrong we might well be.

His pens and pencils and notebooks; his vast collections and volumes and pressings of stamps and coins; his favourite socks and ratty shirts; the scissors moulded by the years to the heft of his hand; his spectacles and his belts, his binoculars and bird books; the chairs that knew his weight and wondered as that weight steadily declined, until by the end when he sank into them they thought they held a long child and not a burly man; I think of these things now when people ask me what I miss about my brother.

Many an essay, and greater ones too, can be written about the wife and daughter and son he loved, and the grandson he will never meet, now, the grandson named for him, the grandson with the same long-lipped face as his son, the grandson to whom he might well have presented his beloved cap one day, when the boy reached for it, curious but a good three feet shy of the peg; but right there is a good place to stop, with my brother kneading his cap with affection, and draping it on his grandson, the two of them laughing, the cap surprised and then delighted, and then away with the three of ye, voyaging into the wind and the rain.

Brian Doyle headshotBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of the essay collection Grace Notes.

Hat image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Brian Doyle, death, family



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Existing comments

I doff my cap to this fabulous story.
Pam | 19 June 2013

Achingly beautiful and filled with sad laughter. Thank you.
Barry G | 19 June 2013

A joy to read
Bernie | 19 June 2013

This is just so beautiful. Thank you, thank you.
Name | 19 June 2013

Beautiful, thank you so much, I will 'keep' this story and this feeling.
angela | 19 June 2013

Dear Brian, I just loved your piece! What a great way of looking at grief. thank you.
Jean Sietzema-Dickson | 20 June 2013

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