I Have a Time Machine Made Out of a Hat
You may see me wearing a worn out, dopey trucker hat covering up a bad hair day or to shade my eyes on a sunny day. It may not look like a high-tech piece of time traveling equipment but for me it’s a personal TARDIS.
Sometime in ’83 or ’84 my aunt and uncle took me to a minor league baseball game in Portland, Oregon. It was a day of firsts. It was the first professional sporting event I went to. It was the first time being in Civic Stadium. It was the first time I witnessed professional baseball. I didn’t know intricacies of the game during that time of my life and honestly I still don’t. But what I do remember was the perfect weather, cheering fans and seeing the bright green turf past the heads of older baseball fans sitting in front.
Somebody went and purchased a Beavers baseball cap for me. It was a black and white plastic mesh hat with a foam front. On the front was an upside-down, reversed Phillies logo made to work with the minor league Beavers identity. I was more fascinated by the opening and closing of the snap-back fasteners. Only later did I become engrossed in the visual look and heritage logo of Portland Beavers and its Major League affiliation.
A few days after the game it went lost as most young kids do with most things. I found weeks later sandwiched between one of my mom’s boxes of sewing fabric. She habitually used my bedroom closet as a makeshift fabric storage center filled with different textiles that never saw the light of day.
Terrified that I would lose the hat again I wrote my name on the back of the foam panel with a thick permanent marker. I remember dabbing ink dots on the yellow porous foam forming separate letters of my name. “P-E-T-E-R” and right below that was “E-N-G”. I had a different surname than my present one because my mom felt it was easier for me to take on her last name after her difficult divorce.
The hat languished in messy-kid-room purgatory during my growing years. Once a while it would come out to accompany me on times where I needed a hat.
In 6th grade I participated in an extracurricular school trip visiting the John Day Fossil Beds near Kimberly, Oregon. Over thirty school children from different schools bused out to the middle of the high desert to learn about fossilized micro plants and animals.
During the day we sweltered in the heat with the sun beating down on our heads, crawling around dry, dusty hills foraging for tiny million year old fossils. I remember making a deliberate choice to bring my Beavers hat because of all the preparatory notes that were given to parents to help their children prepare for the trip.
During the bus ride there I met a black kid with an awesome U.S. Coast Guard hat. Suddenly we became 'field-trip friends'. This phenomenon is similar to having a 'hallway-friend' in school. You don’t really know the person’s name but acknowledge their existence with a few friendly glances in each other’s direction. It would then graduate to saying, “Hi.” or giving a friendly wave. This would exist for the duration of the field trip (or school hours in the case of hallway-friends) but once the day ended the friendship would come to a close. For an introvert like me it was a big deal.
My field-trip friend and I noticed each other’s baseball caps and we decided to trade caps sometime during the fossil digging trip.
We sifted through rocks, ate our sack lunches, attended a few exhibits and piled back into the homeward bound bus. During the 4 hour trip home I watched him fold the bill of the hat right down the middle to fit the curvature of his round kid head. When we returned hats at the end of the day he left my cap with a little more character than before.
Throughout growing up the Beaver baseball trucker hat would to accompany me. I would bring it out to shade my eyes from the elements as I worked on 'repairing' old rental houses that my family owned. I would use the word 'repairing' loosely. We didn’t have a lot of money and would do our best to keep our dilapidated duplex and rentals going. I am extremely thankful during those grueling times because it made me learn how to work with what little I had. Paint smudges, nicks, dirt, and dust would start colonizing the hat. Multiple washings and sun would fade all the dark areas and the white fabric would yellow with age.
Our tenants were a world-weary lot. Some would be the elderly surviving on meager social security benefits. Some were burn-outs and others were young people who loved to party. Most were normal apartment dwellers. I saw a slice of humanity that you would only see at public gatherings such as state fairs, carnivals, courthouse jury selections or recovery wards in hospitals. It gave me an idea of how people worked, played and lived.
The same hat has travelled with me through school, different jobs and different countries. I do not consider it a lucky hat but more of a talisman to evoke memories and to travel back and forth in time. It carries good and bad memories. As I hold it physically in the present it creates an awareness of the my past. It gives me a sliver of insight about my future because it helps me remember past choices. As the older I get the more the hat gives me a sense of time, geography, and of folklore that I have come to better understand.
So, yes. I wear a time machine on my head.