In the span of a 45-year commitment to a lifestyle, a community, and a heritage – one does seem to collect rather a lot of “stuff.” If you are the owner of this particular hat “rather a lot” is an extremely polite way of saying “three small houses… a fourth being arranged… and still not enough…” and that does not include the items she keeps private in her home… or in the homes of other branches of the organization formed to protect the stuff… or in the homes of the extended family members.
What that stuff is and how easy it is to care for can vary, of course. A great many people collect things that require absolutely no care while others seem to surround themselves with items that keep them running around in order to maintain even basic care. The owner of this lovely leather cowboy hat collects both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.
In this case, the object falls far into the needier side of the scale. This poor hat has been with its owner for the majority of her 45 years in the Leather lifestyle. It has seen many a naughty thing and been used in ways that the maker never even considered, much less intended. It has had a long and entertaining life, to be sure.
As happens while one gathers together the many stuffs of a life, the hat was worn less and less, eventually ending up in what started as a place of honor – front and center on top of a shelf in the bedroom. It was gazed at adoringly each night, the memories offered up simply by its existence cherished as the owner drifted off into dreams.
But life goes on, more things are required, more memories imbued into every one of those items, and each memory just as important as the first. The top of the shelf got crowded and then overloaded, and the hat slowly disappeared into a back corner, still loved but now lost in the sea of memories a life creates.
When you have been active in a life as long as this hat’s owner, you will eventually reach a status that means the younglings come looking for you, seeking your wisdom and knowledge, wanting to play with all your cool things, and occasionally offering to help out with this or that. Just such a thing is how this hat was rescued from the top of the shelf.
The Leather lifestyle has a very unique type of person that you can almost exclusively find there – the Bootblack. Unlike the bootblack of days gone by – who mostly just cleaned and shined shoes as quickly as possible – the Leather bootblack is more a leather care technician with varying skills that allow them to care for many types of leather in all sorts of ways.
Bootblacks also tend to be rather pushy and demanding when it comes to taking care of the leather. One such bootblack – me – was visiting the hat’s owner and was delighted to be offered the chance to see all the leather accumulated over a lifetime.
That delight quickly turned into utter dismay… then complete horror.
The first few pieces, the ones that were still worn regularly, were fine – beautiful pieces that just needed a quick cleaning and conditioning (mostly because bootblacks think every single piece of leather that comes into their hands needs a quick cleaning and conditioning even if they literally just watched it being cleaned and conditioned – it’s a bootblack thing don’t try to understand it.)
Then came the pieces rarely worn, mostly from between black cotton clothing – these pieces were much drier having been sucked clean of conditioner by the cotton and hidden among like-colored items. At this point, I was a little upset, but it was easy to understand how the pieces had been forgotten, they just blended in with the other clothing.
And then the digging started…
While the owner mumbled phrases like “I just know I have …” or “Wow.. I’d forgotten I’d owned…” – leather started appearing in all sorts of states, most of which was giving me heart palpitations and cussing fits. There was wrinkled leather, folded leather, balled leather. There were whips somehow layered in a stack of T-shirts. It was all so dry I couldn’t risk flattening it out for fear of the leather crumbling into dust.
And this is where I just snapped – snarling unreasonable demands, spitting accusations and rude names, I started gathering up all the leather, it was all going home with me… all of it… every single scrap. Scanning the room to be sure it was all being rescued, I suddenly stopped and just stood stared at the shelves for a few moments. Something there was calling out to me, but I couldn’t quite figure out what.
Then I saw it, though I wasn’t entirely sure what it was. I pointed to the vaguely hat shaped item in a weird gray/brown dusty color and asked, “What is that?”
The owner looked, then shrugged with a very confused look on her face as she wasn’t sure what I was pointing at exactly, there were so many things. She told me that the shelf was a collection of some of her most prized possessions, and it could be almost anything since the items had been collecting for so many years. So I climbed up and retrieved the item.
In my hands was something shaped like a cowboy hat – but under a full half-inch of dust.
A beaming smile came across her face as she said, “That’s my cowboy hat! How could I have forgotten that was up there!”
I replied, rather menacingly, “Your LEATHER cowboy hat?”
With a sheepish grin, she nodded and moved to the window. We were afraid to try and get it down the stairs without spreading allergens all over the house, so I held it out the window and lightly wiped off the majority of the dust, muttering under my breath the entire time.
Turns out that a very beautiful and exceptionally well-made black leather cowboy hat was under all that fluff, and I cradled it in my hands as if it were the finest Tiffany crystal. The stitches holding the hatband had crumbled at some point, leaving the hatband loose on the hat, but the leather and other stitching seemed to be in salvageable condition.
I stomped down the stairs and placed the hat gingerly atop the pile of items I was “stealing”. I grumbled snarky comments the whole time. Behavior unbecoming, I know. I make no excuses… or apologies.
A little later in the day all the leather was packed into the car and went home with me, where it was gently and carefully loved and brought back to life. Once returned to its former glory the hat was returned – with dire warnings and vicious threats – to the owner carefully encased in a proper hatbox so that it would not be subject to the same abuses in the future.