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After more than a decade, this memory lingers…

It was another day in Paradise. My daughter and her boyfriend, my grandson Lee, my better half and I were enjoying a fine sunny time on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

Better Half and I were dressed for dinner – bermuda shorts, polo shirts and Sperry Docksiders. Our attire was nearly identical, after all, we go steady. We were plopped in beach chairs, marveling over the indescribable grandeur of the Gulf of Mexico. Behind us, about one hundred yards of sparkling quartz sand spanned the distance between the water’s edge and the beach house, where Daughter and Boyfriend were transitioning from soggy sandy beachwear to Tommy Bahama tropical wear.

Four-year old grandson, Lee, was unwilling to call it a day and pleaded with his mother to allow him a  little longer to roll in the soft cool sand and play with his boogie board in the gentle breakers of the Gulf. Better Half and I were assigned to be on the qui vive, since we werealready on the beach enjoying the golden hour views.

Our dear friend Weepy, a long time beach-front resident of the Gulf coast, knows weather and her forecasts have been proven to be correct many, many times.  She often says, “When you are on the Gulf and you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes and it will change.”

I was reminded of Weepy’s weather wisdom when I noticed the golden hour had changed to a rather overcast hour. I looked in the direction where Lee was playing along the shoreline.

Startled, I saw the small lad was a bit too far out in the water. The waves had gained some energy and Lee was bobbing in the swell like a sea gull. I yelled and waved at him to come back. Lee kept bobbing. Not wanting to be an alarmist (I have been accused of being excessively overprotective), I asked Better Half, “Does it look like Lee is drifting further out in the water?”

Her one word reply – yes – was scarcely spoken before I kicked off my shoes and headed for the surf. By this time Lee was drifting farther east and south of where we were sitting. Wild and frantic, I plunged into the water, trying to reach him. I knew the only thing keeping him above water was the little boogie board attached by rope to his wrist – a ridiculous substitute for a proper personal flotation device.

Unable to swim because I skipped swim lessons as a kid, I hopped and dog-paddled toward the diminishing sight of Lee. Fully clothed, out of breath, crying and chest pounding, I began to doubt if I could complete the rescue. Since that scenario was unthinkable, I stayed the course, hampered by my clothes now heavy with water and by the notion that I was most likely having a heart attack right there in the good ole Gulf of Mexico.

Fixed on Lee’s ever distant position, I was startled when I heard a deep voice behind me, “Joy, what’s going on?”

It was Boyfriend! Tall, young, strong, and able to swim, he quickly reached Lee and carried him back to solid ground, reaching landfall before I did. Everyone was gathered around Lee – Daughter, Boyfriend, Better Half and finally yours truly, soaking wet head to toe and looking worse than bedraggled. Better Half handed me my eyeglasses, which apparently I had let fly along with my shoes eons ago.

Everyone was smiling and two of us were crying a little too. After Lee coughed up all the salt water he swallowed during the ordeal, he wanted to know if he could go and play in the surf again. “Maybe tomorrow,” his mother answered.

The remainder of our vacation was as pleasant as it always is on the Gulf Coast – despite weather changes and near drownings. We enjoyed late breakfasts, good books and card games during rainy periods. When the sun graced us with her bright light, warmth and harmful UV rays, we made our way to the beach, loaded down with coolers, chairs, snacks, towels, binoculars, shell, fish and bird field guides, fishing gear and bait, hats, a radio and and a few toys for Lee too.

We never took our eyes off of Lee – sporting his new life vest – as he played in the water near the shore. One afternoon, Lee and I were building the umpteenth sand castle of the week. I couldn’t forget the sight of him tossing about in the tide and after the rescue being so dispassionate about the event.

My profound curiosity about Lee’s experience of being alone in choppy seas led me to ask a question. “Lee. What where you thinking about when you drifted out so far into the water and couldn’t get back to shore?”

So young, confident and trusting was he that little boy replied, “I was thinking: I wonder when somebody is going to come and save me.”

I believe most women who are old enough to have grandchildren can look back at their lives as well as contemplate the present and realize just how many lives they have tried to save, to bail out or liberate.

I have done my share of attempted rescues. I have come to the aid of family and friends to free them from poor grades and poor choices, from health issues and economic woes, from drug and other addictions, from loneliness, fearfulness and defeat. My family and friends have done the same for me – sometimes successfully, but often not. Heaven knows I’ve needed to be rescued on more than a few occasions.

Even now I would dive into the deep to save Lee’s life. Be that as it may, it’s much more likely that the now tall, strong, fifteen-year-old Lee would play the role of life guard and I the role of grandmama who never learned to swim.

We are given opportunities to help others along our path and we do. But can we truly take responsibility for someone else’s life? Do we have the capacity to deliver others from challenges they face? If our efforts to save others become overwhelming, then what?

Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize winner and one of my favorite poets wrote “The Journey”, a poem that offers her wisdom to the would-be saviors and those waiting to be saved.

The Journey

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice–

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

I would love to have a Way Back Machine – one like the WABAC, a computer/time machine introduced by Mister Peabody, the animated dog genius on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. As you recall – if you are an aging Baby Boomer and have not yet lost memory function – Peabody and his pet boy, Sherman, would use the WABAC to take jaunts through history. I especially liked the bad puns that closed each Peabody’s Improbable History cartoon segment.

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Being a hat collector, I cannot explain why I waited so long to purchase a Tilley hat.  My hat collection includes a red fez, a jester’s hat complete with little bells, a black bowler, a Stetson and other cowboy hats, straw hats, Filson hats, a squirrel fur hat, a really weird hat made from human hair (no, not a wig), watch caps, a Greek fisherman’s hat, a white “dixie cup” sailor’s cap, hats with ear-warming flaps (these are particularly unflattering), wool, cotton and velvet berets, fedoras, and straw hats.

 

Paper Hat

Paper Hat

 

Also on my shelves are a Salvation Army hat, a German trenker hat with feather, numerous caps suitable for speeding along a country lane in a sports car, Confederate Infantry officer’s hat, a hat for one of Santa’s elves and one for Santa himself, Peter Pan’s hat with a long pheasant feather, two Sombreros,  an official Boy Scouts campaign hat, a WWII women’s Garrison cap, rain hats with floppy brims, a Musketeer hat with a fluffy white feather, a tall white chef’s hat, and countless ball caps – some with logos, some without. Oh yes, and now a Tilley hat.

 

About two weeks before I bought the Tilley, I was shopping in a trendy consignment shop and spotted a saucy little straw Fedora with a blue straw hat band woven right into the crown. The hat had no label, in fact nothing inside except sweat stains. I picked it up and tried it on and lo and behold, it fit. Finding hats – especially vintage hats – in my size, which is six and seven-eighths or sometimes seven, is rare. Let’s just say that one size does NOT fit all. I paid the clerk eight bucks, put the hat on my head and sashayed out the door.

 

I had convinced myself that the straw hat I purchased would be my last. After all, my collection was not as important to me as it once was. I had moved on and hats were, well, passe. Then on Saturday, as I was shopping for .410 shotgun shells at Mark’s Outdoors (having used the last one on the big copperhead in the front yard), I saw it: the Tilley hat collection. Being a hat pundit, I was already familiar with the brand. I knew these hats were built to last a lifetime. I also had a vague sense that Tilleys were somewhat nerdish and being somewhat nerdish myself, I was drawn to the display.

 

I selected a Tilley hat from the rack. It was light creme color with a not-too-wide brim, which I hoped would not rest mid-ear. Before placing the hat on my head, I looked inside the hat to determine front and back. A large label sewn into the hat’s crown described the hat.

 

The Label

The Label

THE FINEST IN ALL THE WORLD

INSURED AGAINST LOSS, GUARANTEED FOR LIFE

(REPLACED FREE IF IT EVER WEARS OUT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The label went on to describe other virtues of this seemingly miraculous hat – features like UV protection, water repellent, wind cord, et cetera. Then I saw a small brochure tucked under the label. It was the hat’s Owner’s Manual and included the warning to remove before fitting hat. The four-page manual was tremendously informative, providing important details such as “which is the front” and revealing the secret of the secret pocket where one might stow emergency cash or a fishing license. As if this altogether was not enough to convince me to buy, a small sticker on the hat indicated it was a size seven!  

 

I located a mirror in a deserted part of the store and tried on the Tilley. “Not bad, rather handsome,” I lied to myself. (Although I love hats I do not love how they look on my head.) Then, I turned up both sides of the brim using the brass snaps, which “develop a sought-after permanent patina when exposed to salt air”, and swore I would never wear the hat in that fashion unless I was touring overseas.

 

I cannot recall the exact price I paid for my Tilley. It was several times more than the $8 purchase price of the pre-owned straw Fedora and appreciably less than the Panama hats I recently came across online, which go for up to $25,000. I know. $25,000! So, I paid the clerk a reasonable sum, put the hat on my head and sauntered out the door.

 

The Airflow Tilley Hat

The Airflow Tilley Hat

 

After the shopping trek, I arrived home along the beautiful shore of the Black Warrior River and did what any self-respecting nerd would do: with indelible ink, I wrote my name, telephone number and date on the label inside my new Tilley hat. I tucked my fishing license into the secret pocket, put the hat on my head, adjusted the wind cord, grabbed my fly rod and went fishing.

 

Now, here’s the part where I explain how my Tilley hat became holy. That day, wearing my new hat and fishing from my kayak, I caught so many bream I stopped counting AND two large-mouth bass, each in the two-to-three-pound range. Yes, that’s right, two bass in one outing – a feat never before accomplished by this bush league yet unapologetic fly fisher.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

Inasmuch as I believe that God and spirits dwell in rivers, I also believe in my Tilley hat to be the finest fishing hat I’ve ever owned. And though I may never become a master fly fisher, I will always have a deep appreciation for the magic that lives in the art of the fly and just below the surface of water. Oh yes, and also in my new fishing hat.

 

 

 

 

Like many people, I’ve been thinking a great deal about money recently. I’m sad when I learn that friends and family have lost their jobs due to this struggling economy. I worry that my own small household might become a victim of  these difficult times. I’m afraid that my meager retirement income, to which I should one day be entitled, may soon evaporate.

 

I’m baffled when the “experts” recommend that we save our money by dining out less often, stop using the dry cleaners, forego regular dog groomer visits and otherwise give up luxury or non-essential purchases. I wonder how those folks who never use hard-earned dollars on this type spending can find ways to save? And what about those who are accustomed to a high life? Does depression set in if a new pair of $300 shoes must stay on the shelf at the local boutique or if that vacation home purchase is postponed another year?

 

It seems the poor economic climate affects everyone – individuals, businesses, governments and, most especially, non-profit organizations. I mention non-profits because the third sector happens to be my field. I am resource development director –the person largely responsible for generating operating dollars – for a medium-sized non-profit agency. Thus, I’ve been thinking a great deal about money recently.

 

One might imagine that my outlook is dim. Corporate, foundation and individual donations are down in general. When asked, the majority of potential donors will point to tough economic times as the reason for not giving to charity, even though it is during such times that charities – and especially those people served by charities – need help the most. Having said all that, I am not disheartened. But what encourages my optimism?

 

During a recent charity fund-raising event guests were asked to make a gift or pledge. Suggested donation amounts ranged from $10 to $1,000. Proceeds from this particular request exceeded the anticipated goal by 300 percent. As might be expected, everyone involved in the fund-raiser celebrated this success, which generated several more gifts than expected in the $500 to $1,000 range .  While the favorable outcome of this fund-raising effort is encouraging, it is not the source of my hope.

 

My faith that goodwill and compassion live on even during hard times comes from one single gift received during that fund-raising event. The gift was two crinkled dollar bills. The gift – gem-clipped to a pledge card – was anonymous, but the donor took the time to complete the card by hand-writing $2.00 in the amount blank. Unlike the poor widow in the Bible (Luke 21: 1-4), the small sum was probably not the donor’s entire fortune, nevertheless the gift was significant in the same manner as the widow’s mite. Most likely, two dollars was all the cash the donor had that day in her purse, yet she gave it wholeheartedly.

 

It is this lesson of the anonymous two dollar gift that reminds me that the essence of  compassion, kindness and benevolence cannot be extinguished by greed, poverty or even a failing financial system. And I am reminded that, it is not the amount which one gives that matters, but the spirit in which the gift is given.