Petersen: Hats for all seasons
History: that’s the stuff in books about people, places and things that happened in the past. Or in the case of millennial persons, events that happened before they were born, which leads me to revive a blast from the past of personal history.
Way back in 1986, way before a lot of my young millennial friends had grown to voting age, I had the unique experience of being a guest on the Johnny Carson show. I had to explain to one young person who Johnny Carson was.
When I said he followed Fred Allen and Jack Paar as host of the Tonight Show, my listener merely looked puzzled. When I updated as far as Jay Leno, I still received only blank looks, I sighed and mentioned Jimmie Fallon and Trevor Noah. Finally dim-wattage lightbulbs appeared over her head — right after she looked up the names on her Smart Phone.
But… honest… I was there.
After the first cowboy poetry gathering in Elko, Nev., apparently Carson “scouts” thought bringing on a couple of poets to be in one of the “guest” spots — where the hoi polloi person spoke about his/her hobby/interest/talent for the few minutes at the beginning of the show.
As one of the few (11 out of approximately 200 male poets at the Elko gathering), I’d been selected, apparently, as worthy of the Carson show.
I was summoned via a telephone call from Los Angeles. When I answered the phone, I first assumed it was a friend pulling a joke on me. But, no. Would I go to L.A.? (Well, what do you think I said?)
So, I picked out a poem and set about endlessly memorizing it. To make it visual and lively I chose “Hats for All Seasons.” Which meant that as I recited, I would put on and take off a hat one might be wearing around the ranch — style and warmth depending on the time of year.
So, there I was sitting, somewhat overwhelmed, next to J.C. at the desk to my left and Ed McMahon on the couch to my right. Here’s the poem. As I changed hats, I’d fling the first one ahead of me onto the floor.
HATS FOR ALL SEASONS
Those high-crowned hats with mile-wide brims (put on nice cowboy hat)
Are the Hollywood cowboy’s glory.
Make ugly men handsome and short ones tall
But that’s not the end of the story. (toss hat)
On the five-point antler behind my door
Hangs a potload of Western hats,
All shapes and colors, all stages of wear,
They cling like a bunch of bats.
Now hats for chores tend to be caps (put on baseball cap)
Emblazoned with feed-store names,
I like ‘em a lot when slopping hogs,
Or pursuing similar aims. (toss hat)
At summer’s beginning I drive into town
In a straw chapeau unrumpled, (put on spiffy straw western hat)
By summer’s end, the dust and the sweat,
Turns the poor thing soiled and crumpled. (toss hat)
When I ride in the rodeo parades
Decked out in Western style. (put on spiffy Stetson)
My Stetson sits at a rakish tilt
I salute the crowd with a smile. (toss hat)
Those times when weather turns to wet,
And I haven’t a slicker nearby,
I grab Old Gray that’s way too large; (put on scuzzy, beat up, too large, wide-brimmed Stetson felt hat)
Odd, I admit — but I’m dry. (pull down so it droops over my ears, then toss)
As temperature cools and winter nears,
My headgear acquires savoir–faire
With ear-warming flaps for my chilly ears, (put on wool cap with ear flaps)
I know I am plumb debonair. (don’t toss)
Then blizzards howl; the mercury drops.
And to keep my noggin warm,
I double and triple what I wear on top, (drape wool scarf around head on top of ear-flaps cap)
In true-grit cowgirl form. (then toss scarf and cap)
But spring comes again and the feed-store cap (put on baseball cap)
Rounds out the circle full
To movie cowhands whose hats never age…
I say … you’re … full … of … bull …. (doff hat with exaggerated gesture).
Well, my presentation got a satisfying amount of applause. Carson thanked me. I rose to standing, then bent to pick up my strewn hats. Ed McMahon hastened to tell me to let them be. But by then, I’d already scooped up the scuzzy over-large felt Stetson with the wide drooping brim. I walked off stage into the wings still carrying it.
And waiting in said wings was Don Rickles, one of the real guest stars. As I passed him, I handed him the wide-brimmed scuzzy hat I was carrying. “Here,” I said, “You can use this.” Don R grabbed it and strode onstage. He and Carson greeted one another. Then Don waved the scuzzy Stetson around and announced, “This could use a rinse!”
It got a big laugh. ❖