Monday, October 3, 2011

Our Storied Lives And Our Big Box Of Hats

Stories are like hats. 

Look around and you’ll notice that most people don’t wear hats anymore.  Except, perhaps, when it’s too cold to go outside without one.  

Stories are like that.  Most people don’t write them down or tell them anymore, except when they have to.  And for most people, those “when they have to” moments are few and far between.

Years ago, people wore hats almost all the time.  There was a hat for going to work and a hat for going to church and a hat for walking the dog.  Big hats and little hats. Fancy hats with beads and feathers and beat-up furry warm hats.  Home-made hats and store-bought hats. Hats in the closet and hats in the attic and hats on the little table beside the front door.

As I said, stories are like hats. 

Years ago, people told stories to one another. Some got written down, others didn’t.  There were long stories and short stories.  Scary stories and funny stories. Stories for going to bed and stories to make you feel better. Stories that explained why things were the way they were. Stories that got passed down from age to youth, and were told over and over again. Stories where nothing ever changed.

Even though you knew the fate of Goldilocks, it was always thrilling when the three bears came home, no matter how many times you heard the story.  Hearing the Goldilocks story over and over again always made you feel good, and was a lot like that beat-up furry warm hat that always felt good when you put it on.

In some parts of the world, people don’t have much, but they have stories.  In other parts, there are things aplenty, but all the stories seem to have been stuffed in a box in the attic, like so many old, out-of-fashion hats.

Years ago, stories were a family thing. Grandmothers told their grandchildren about what they did as children, told them about the stories and songs they learned and about the awful scratchy hats their parents made them wear in the snow. Grandfathers wrote small snippets of stories down on paper, folded them and sent them off to their children who lived far away on what seemed like the other side the earth, but was only eight states to the west.

These stories were actually letters, with the little family stories wrapped up neatly inside, like those candy crèmes with stiff glossy brown paper on the outside – the kind of candies that you couldn’t ever identify until you took a bite. 

Letters can be stories, too, with little bits of story all tied together on a page. Grandfathers always knew that.  “I wanted to tell you that your Aunt Margaret has been unwell with palsy for most of the month and Uncle Freddie’s farm was sold to some city people from Syracuse who think they will try to raise some bees.  No rain here for weeks now. Esther got a new hat from Monkey Ward’s in the mail last week.  She thinks she looks like one of them movie people. Ha!

People come and go.  Most of all the letters with the stories in them that have ever been written have already been thrown away, and only a few remain.  Fashion comes and goes, too.  Most times, hats end up in a box and get taken to the thrift store or the charity shop, where total strangers find them, admire them, try them on and take them home.

In many ways, stories are like those hats, as well. 

Think about it.  You have stories – after all, we all do. Maybe you think they’re old and out of fashion, like those hats.  Maybe you don’t know what to do with them.  Maybe you need to try those stories on, on more time.

How can you try a story on?  

Simple.  Write it down.  Then put it somewhere so that people – family members or even total strangers – can find it.

Maybe when those stories are found again, even total strangers will admire them, try them on and take them home.

After all, stories are a lot like hats.


  1. I really like this. I don't wear hats unless I'm out in the cold but I do have stories and I do write them down.

  2. Thanks for taking time to read this and the other recent ones! I'm glad to hear that you're writing your stories down; it's amazing how a little flash of memory can turn itself into a story in no time - once we set our minds to it!

  3. I hadn't noticed that your name was Wolfgang. My Uncle Henry's middle name was Wadsworth but he always wished it was Wolfgang and he often said it was.