April 13, 2008

Some Sweatbands Do

Long before the days of sun blocking cream and an awareness of the hazards of skin cancer from the burning sun in the rarified elevations of the mountains and high plains of the intermountain west, we wore hats in the summer time – mostly the cowboy variety for the men and boys. Girls and women had a wide brimmed tightly woven straw bonnet. For the most part, these straw hats lasted through the summer and then fell apart and were finally thrown out. It was especially important that the hats be worn when working outside and during family and multi-family pack trips in the mountains of Idaho and Wyoming. My mother saw to it that I had one and wore it when appropriate.

It seems odd how tiny scraps of memory come floating into your consciousness years after their occurrence. I am taken back to when I first discovered wear and tear and a broken strand of straw in one of my boyhood hats. Somehow I felt a small sensation of loss – knowing that soon that hat would be discarded. That wouldn’t seem like such a big deal, but I felt that in throwing out the hat, the experiences that had formed that hat and were now part of me would be inexplicably lost. Maybe this would not have happened had I had a felt hat like my pal Mike. His hat had lasted years and was now grimy, nicked around the edges and lumpy all over – but he still had it.

On the other hand, maybe the reason us kids got straw hats was for hygienic reasons. Knowing that there would be rotation in the hat line-up was probably of some comfort to my health conscious mother who I am sure cringed at the sight of those old filthy grayed felt hats. Such hats were easy to be found – I remember so often watching some cowboy hobble down the sidewalks past the Wagon Wheel and thinking that he needed a new hat. The one he wore sure was ugly – the darkened oily sweat band must have acted like glue keeping his lid on in a windstorm. But you never seem to get away form those well worn hats. To tell the truth I have a couple of them sitting around the house right now. They all tell the tale of the wearer. They are personal history in the most personal of ways. Whenever you see one, you know that that feller has been around the block a time or two.

Recent years have seen the establishment of high-end cowboy hat shops that cater to the well healed easterner of the new west. These thousand dollar hats don’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hades of ever developing a well worn greasy sweat band. For the most part they never see work a horseback and seldom see the sun. This little poem gives a few pointers about cowboy hats and the folks that wear them.

Some Sweatbands Do
by Paul Kern

Was it just an old cowpuncher,
Or some saddle tramp with a tooled belt,
Wearin’ that Triple X Stetson of once fine felt?

A hat well worn and past its prime,
A grimy hat abused and long past new,
Oily around the brim where sweat beads through.

You can’t help but sorta’ wonder,
What manner of critters therein abide,
Where they congregate or how they prefer to ride.

That darkened rim around a hat,
Ain’t for sale at any price it just cannot be bought,
It only comes from bein’ there with the workin’ cowboy lot.

That oily grime around the brim,
Is a badge of honor ‘round the cowboy clan,
It’s evidence you know your way and that you know you can.

Some folks’d never wear a dirty hat,
They don’t seem to understand or maybe just plain won’t,
Still the same - some sweatbands do - and others just plain don’t.

This audio file of one of my old podcasts contains "Some Sweatbands Do"
followed by "The Cowboy Song" performed by Jim Dunham.

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