|“Green Hats and Camel Hair Coats” is a short story in three parts from a collection of essays I am compiling for future publication. Drawing from a childhood spent living in a tiny fishing community on the coast of Maine, “Green Hats” not only resonates with local homespun flavor but also provides invaluable God-centered life lessons I wouldn’t trade for the world. You didn’t ask for it but you are getting it anyway … I present to you “Green Hats and Camel Hair Coats”.
Green Hats and Camel Hair Coats
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
Ideal situations don’t always present themselves in the context we expect. I always thought that due to my Christian upbringing, God would always look graciously upon His “favorite son” in what ever life pursuit I chose. Every situation I found myself in would turn out to be a positive experience. I truly believed that. After all, I attended church every time the door was open, my father was a pastor, and six generations before me served in that same post. Let’s just say I had connections. If my family was for God, then how could He or anyone else for that matter, be against me … or so the scripture says to some effect.
For most of my childhood, this notion held pretty much intact. Good grades in school – no problem. I made every sports team I tried out for. Friends? I had plenty of them. A good life was at my beck and call. I had God on my side. He would provide for me in every situation. I didn’t even need to ask.
Then one day in sixth grade, my entire perception of what I thought faith was supposed to be, changed with the frightening slash of a knife’s blade.
Now, before you jump to conclusions, I was not stabbed. My life was not even threatened. But I remember it as the day I lost the innocence of childhood. It was a moment where the seeds of indifference were sown. My world was not a perfect sphere anymore, rotating along its axis in a sort of cosmic perpetuity. It was now kind of like a semi-deflated soccer ball.
Because I was a pastor’s son I was always treated a little bit differently than my peers. In a bizarre sort of way a PK is treated like royalty. A few, of course, think the pastor’s child is nothing more than a spoiled brat, but for most parishioners, the theologian’s offspring is a bit of a minor celebrity around Fellowship Hall.
I was no exception. I was a magnet for little old blue-haired ladies who had nothing better to do than dote on the preacher’s kid. Rarely did a Sunday pass that I did not come home with a homemade pie, candy, or a new pair of mittens in my possession.
One item I could have done without, though, was a forest green knit hat with a pom-pom on top so large it could have choked a small elephant. Old Mrs. Hunter, who was our neighbor as well, smiled with glee as she presented me the spoils of her labor. She explained that she had been watching me walk to the bus stop every morning without a hat and because the weather was getting colder she felt a strong urge to “bless” me with a warm head.
To me, her gift was far from a blessing. It was more like a curse. I was mortified at the prospect of actually being seen in public with this hideous hat even in my hands nonetheless be seen with my pom-pom bobbing about town. But like most clever pastors kids do, I smiled facetiously and thanked her for such a wonderful gift.
Fortunately, my “blessing” came in a rumpled brown paper bag. No one else would need to see it. It would just be Mrs. Hunter’s and my little secret.
Not a chance.
Later that day, after I had conveniently left my blessing in the backyard during a cold November rain, my mother posed this undeniably keen question.
“What is that paper bag doing wedged in the lobster traps (I grew up in a fishing village)?” she asked.
“Ah … Mr. Woodcock must have put it there, you know how he is always puttering with his traps,” I ventured cautiously, trying to place the blame on our next door neighbor, who frequently stored his lobster traps in our yard during the winter months. “He probably left his lunch out there the other day.”
My mother hemmed and hawed to herself for a few minutes as she contemplated what could possibly be in the soggy paper bag. I won’t bore you with some of her suggestions but let’s just say an ugly wool hat with an oversized pom-pom attached was not one of them. Finally, the words I was praying not to hear slipped from my abnormally inquisitive mother’s lips.
“Christopher Robin (she still calls me this to this day) why don’t you put your jacket on and go see what is in that bag? If it is Mr. Woodcock’s hammer, please take it over to him. We don’t want it to get rusty.”
“But I might catch a cold,” I shot back instantly, knowing that my mother was terrified by germs. “Besides, if the hammer is rusty you wouldn’t want me to get tetanus.”
A hand shot to her hip, a clear sign she was wavering. The woman who gave me life thought long and hard on that one. This could be a double whammy for her young son. Catching a cold and getting tetanus on the same day? She would never be able to live with herself if she knowingly sent her beloved baby boy to his untimely demise.
She released her hand from her hip, allowing it to drop back to her side.
“On second thought, I will go see what is in the bag.” So, my mother pulled on her fake camel suede coat with the furry collar, a garment that was quite popular by 1970’s standards. But what I find interesting is that it was remarkably similar to one I saw a street hustler wearing one time in the city years later.
Ready for anything, she ventured out into the quagmire that was Sunday afternoon.
I wanted to hide. I wanted to run. Instead, I just stood in the kitchen window watching, horrified, due to what she was about to uncover. Layers of my life began to unravel, peeling away like an onion. As I watched her slip her hands around the soaking paper bag, I could almost feel the hands of my father slipping around my neck. My throat constricted for I knew I was in trouble. And on the Sabbath no less.
I began formulating every conceivable excuse I could think of, anything that could help me defend myself.
I was talking to Mr. Woodcock and he liked the hat so much he wanted to show it to Mrs. Woodcock to see if she could make him one too. He must have accidentally left it there.
Bobby O’Bannon stole it from me. His mother must have made him return it to me and he didn’t have the guts to come to the door.
The dog ate it. (This works well if A. you have a dog; or B. it isn’t pouring rain outside)
I hate the hat and was trying to hide it from you because if you saw it you would make me wear it.
Time for truth. My mother was coming in the door, a drowned camel or a hard working street hustler out in the rain, I wasn’t really sure. Before she could interrogate me I blurted, “Mr. Woodcock ate it. Billy O’Bannon must have given it to him after he stole it from me. That jerk!”
My mother didn’t hear me. She was too busy removing that hideous coat of hers to notice the pleading desperation in my eyes. Once she had positioned her coat just the right way in the oven (my mother had a penchant for drying out wet clothes in the oven in those days) so it wouldn’t burn or singe, she turned to face me. But rather than interrogate me regarding any knowledge I might have on this seeping green wool hat with the droopy pom-pom attached, she smiled. It wasn’t the sinister ‘you just wait until your father gets home’ grin either. My mother was radiating. It was as if she had just discovered the equation for nuclear fusion or had solved that pesky Rubik’s Cube for the first time...
“Christopher Robin, today must be your lucky day,” my mother crowed. “I was just saying to your father yesterday that we needed to get you a winter hat. God must have been listening because look what is in this paper bag. It is a blessing from above!”
Or a blessing from Mrs. Hunter depending on how you looked at it. Old Mrs. Hunter, God, my mother … a potent elixir of theology and pie recipes for sure. In my mother’s right hand was what appeared to be a dripping head of steamed spinach, except it wasn’t steaming. It was rather limp actually. Apparently, my elderly neighbor’s knitting needles had been weaving together some pretty cheap yarn because a greenish pool of liquid was forming rapidly at my mother’s feet.
“I don’t know what to say,” I rasped.
“There is nothing we can say except praise be to thy Lord!” my mother exulted.
Next Week: A saxophone serenade for Mrs. Hunter …green hat in tow.
me what you think
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