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Git Home!


By Debbie Raney

The faded black hat hangs on the hook by the back door. Its band is soiled, the brim so flimsy that it can no longer hold a shape, and the crown is cracked and torn on the creases.

When he first pulled it out of the box, it was Christmas, 1965. The 10x felt was so perfect, and the long oval was an exact fit. It was the nicest hat he had ever owned. The black hat went to BLM meetings and cattlemen conventions. It attended family weddings, graduations, and funerals. During many renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner,” he held it proudly over his heart. Once home, it was always brushed clean and returned to its box.

After the year it poured rain during the county fair, he began to wear it for work. Dust collected on the now weakened brim, desert heat made the crown begin to crack and sweat stains accumulated. More than once, it was thrown in the path of an angry gate-hunting cow, and it fanned many bucking colts’ ears. The dog got hold of it once, but it popped back into shape pretty well, and the teeth marks weren’t very noticeable. The only time the black hat was worn to town was for rush trips to the vet or parts store.

His grandkids soon began taking turns wearing it when they were riding their stick horses. The first time that the oldest rode the drag when the cows went to summer pasture, he let her have the black hat to use. But, the next month, a brand new silver belly was wrapped for her birthday, so she returned Grandpa’s to him.

It wasn’t used much after that; it only came off the hook to go fishing, or during bad rain storms. The black hat was beyond damaging, and it couldn’t get any uglier.

When he had his heart attack he couldn’t help on the ranch any more. He had to content himself with sitting in his chair, watching out the window. Every morning, though, he would pull the beaten up black hat off the hook and place it on his greyed head. The wear and tear reminded him of his past.

It has been over a year since the black hat has been removed from the wall. His wife touches it lovingly each morning to get the strength to face the day and every evening to help her make it through one more lonely night. Soiled and flimsy, it hangs as a tribute to the life of the man who received it as a Christmas gift over 30 years ago.

Debbie Raney’s grandfather, Fred Witzel, shown above, is shaded from the Harney County sun by his weathered black hat.


Table of Contents | Git Home!

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last page update: 04.03.05