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Hats Off
To Winter

by Stephen Lautens


December 15, 2000

With the temperatures dipping to 25 below, I feel it's now safe to pronounce summer officially over and bring in the lawn furniture. That is, if I can find it under the snow.

Judging from the fact that our home only has two small closets, our house was apparently built for nudist hermits. With space at a premium, once we're sure the weather has changed for good, all our clothes perform their ritual migration south. In our case that's to the basement, where the shorts and Hawaiian shirts spend the cold months basking in the relative warmth next to the furnace.

Up come the sweaters, the coats, scarves and boots.

You'll notice I forgot to mention hats, as in: "Stephen, are you going out in the cold without a hat?"

Originally that was my mother's favourite phrase from November until about May. My wife has now laid claim to it as an advance on my inheritance.

Strangely enough, I can't remember my father ever suggesting I wear a hat. The most he would do after an hour or two out in sub-zero weather is casually say: "Boy, your ears sure are red."

"Yup," I'd reply, and that would be the end of it.

For her part, mother would come up and "help" me by putting her hands over my fast-frozen ears and rubbing until they cracked and bits of them fell off.

Don't get me wrong - I love hats. It's just that the only ones I've ever liked aren't very practical. Like the real North Vietnamese Army pith helmet a friend brought back from a trip. Or the fez I bought on my honeymoon. (Note: If she is still married to you after wearing a fez home from your honeymoon, it's a good indication that your marriage can survive just about anything.)

But I guarantee that anything wooly and practical won't make its way onto my head.

That's because most men would rather freeze solid from the Adams apple up than wear a hat in winter. Maybe it's the toughness thing. We don't want to admit we feel the cold, even when we're down on our hands and knees looking in a snow bank for our ears.

Maybe it's the goofy look of most winter hats, which is important since men are far more vain than women. It's one thing to wear a hat at a party that you know looks stupid (see fez or pith helmet above), but it's a completely different thing to look stupid just because you're trying to avoid frostbite or hypothermia. That's a sign of weakness, not just poor judgment. Poor judgment is something men long ago learned to live with.

I've seen a few Jester hats already this winter, but let's face it - unless you're a bike courier or entertaining royalty, you just look like a goof.

It reminds me of a friend I had at university who wore one of those knit wool Sherpa hats all winter. It had the pointy top and long dangling earflaps. Very fetching. Probably as warm as anything, but he paid a terrible price. I don't remember a woman ever saying anything, but every man he knew razzed him something fierce.

And of course the irony was he had to listen to our insults, since he was the only man in the group whose ears weren't frozen solid.

© Stephen Lautens 2000

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