Have Toque, Will Travel
by Lee Parpart
It was just a simple brown ski hat with a striped cuff and a squashed pompom, vaguely poo-coloured and permanently caked in sweat.
But to an eight-year-old dragged from Boston to Britain and then Lusaka for her mother’s doctoral research, it must have signified something important.
Why else would I refuse to remove it for a full year?
In London, I wore the toque so often that a man in our B&B finally worked up the courage to ask if it hid a surgical scar.
I remember him sitting opposite us at breakfast, trying on the question while waiting for his toast to cool.
He couldn’t have known that simply being in a place where toast was served cold helped explain my need for this comfort from home.
From then on we called it the Cancer Hat.
I wore it sleeping, on double-decker buses around London, in baths until it was time to shampoo, and on the plane to Zimbabwe.
I tried to keep it on during that whole first night in Nairobi, but relented when my fever broke 104 and I began a long night of vomiting.
My sister put it on a chair and held my hair back while our mother braved the hotel bar on a quest for ginger ale.
Days later, when we reached Lusaka, the diplomats’ daughters at our British school sized up my striped Levi’s and soiled headgear and declared me unfit for society.
They were not wrong.
I was half a girl, the ink on the divorce papers barely dry when we boarded that first plane and left our father to his broken mind.
I can’t remember when the hat finally outlived its usefulness. One day, about halfway through our two-year stay in Zambia, it just disappeared.
I don’t remember making a fuss.
AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Christmas 1973 in West Newton, Massachusetts, a few months before my sister and I would fly to London to join our Mom. I was already wearing the hat full-time, inside and out.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’ve been trying to remember if it was my Dad who bought the hat for me. I know he bought me a winter coat at EMS in Boston, and he could have given me the hat at the same time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lee Parpart worked as an arts journalist and media studies researcher before returning to creative writing in 2015. Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous Silver Birch Press series, and she was named an Emerging Writer for East York in 2016 as part of Open Book Toronto’s “What’s Your Story” contest. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.