Jeff Hammer: Bonnets

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    The destination escapes me now some fifty or so years later, but as my dad and I stepped out of our house on Smith Court on our way toward our family’s ‘67 Ford Bronco, I remember he took two or three steps and then abruptly stopped and reversed direction back toward the back door from which we had emerged only a few seconds before.

    “Forgot my bonnet,” was his only explanation.


    Even at the confusing age of twelve, I was an avid reader, so I knew what a bonnet was, and never in my emerging imagination could I picture him wearing such a garment, which only added to my adolescent confusion.

    A few moments later, he opened the back door and came out wearing the same old sweat-stained fedora he always wore, much to my relief, I’m sure. Having my father wear a bonnet in a public setting would not have advanced my belief that our family’s lineage descended from a tough-as-nails Wyoming homesteader.

    Never can I recall that he ever wore any other headgear, except in later years as a wheelchair bound quadriplegic when he was given a ball cap or two. He also donned a particularly stylish tweed beret that he would sometimes wear outside in cool weather.

    I, on the other hand, have a collection of hats with a little more variety. I have at least three different blaze orange hats to wear during the fall hunting seasons. I have a gray insulated L.L. Bean hat with a bill that I have worn cross country skiing in the past. It’s a little out of style now, (I’m not sure when exactly it was in style) but I’m not getting rid of it. I’m sure I’ll wear it again…sometime. I wear a bike helmet whenever I’m pedaling around on two wheels, and during the winter months, I have three or so knit hats that I wear to keep my noggin warm.


    But, by far, the most extensive category of hats that I wear is ball caps. At last count, I can find no less than eighteen caps that reside in a plastic container on the shelf in our coat closet. As I wear each one from time to time, it takes a while to rotate through them all.

    And I’m not getting rid of any of them either any time soon. Many of them are mementos of a place or event in my life and therefore have meaning, if only to me, which is enough justification to keep them, in my opinion. This is an opinion piece, after all. 

    There is the cap my daughter, Erin, brought back from her trip as part of the University of Wyoming Nordic Ski Club team national competition in Lake Placid, New York; a cap that rarely is worn, but one that I cherish. I’m not sure how she snagged a 1980 Olympic Winter Games cap nearly three decades after a team of American amateur college hockey players defeated the mighty Soviet team in what has been known as the “Miracle on Ice” ever since.


    Years afterward, in an unforeseen roundabout twist of fate, Erin, was a fellow physician for the University of Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team for which Mark Johnson, a prominent player on that Olympic hockey team, was the head coach. 

    And as fate would have it, she was once called upon to provide a little medical care for the head coach, rather than a player.

    Collegiate hockey players are protected by helmets with either a cage or a full face visor, but not so the coaches. During one game, Johnson reacted fast enough to protect his face from an errant puck, but the puck still connected with his scalp, causing a significant laceration.


    Erin writes, “Scalp wounds bleed like crazy and often look worse than they are. They are also not easy to suture and there’s not really a concern about a cosmetic outcome, so we will usually staple them closed. Like any hockey player who subscribes to the tough guy attitude, Coach Johnson nicely requested no anesthesia and to just get it over with. So I obliged… And that was the end of that.

    “Except in the back of my mind I was thinking to myself, ‘I cannot believe I’m stapling Mark Johnson’s head. Hero of the 1980 Olympic Miracle on Ice U.S. Hockey Team. Humble doesn’t begin to describe him. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever seen and a very kind person.’”

    So, I think I’ll keep that cap.

    Another cap which is rarely worn, but carries significant sentimental value is a Hamm’s beer cap once belonging to my oldest brother, Jim. Upon his death in January of 2018, one of my nephews collected all of Jim’s caps and performed some hocus pocus to make them clean again. He then passed them out to my brothers and me at a memorial service held in Jim’s honor on some property he owned in Washington state over the Memorial Day weekend of the same year. The Hamm’s cap came home with me.

    I haven’t partaken of a Hamm’s beer in several decades, and if my memory serves me correctly, I didn’t particularly care for it then. However, after starting this column, sentiment overcame memory, and I mentally vowed to honor my brother’s memory by having a Hamm’s on or near his birthday of September 19 of this year and every year after. 

    That is, until I performed a little online investigation and found out that Miller Brewing Company had discontinued brewing Hamm’s in 2020. It appears I will never again have the displeasure of trying to choke down another can of the stuff, but I can still wear the cap.

    I have had caps from several national parks over the years, and one that presently fits me particularly well is from Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado. So, that cap gets worn quite a bit, especially in winter, as it’s black.

    I have a few caps with logos from the University of Wyoming and a couple from the University of Wisconsin, caps that I cherish equally but for different reasons. I wear them frequently, especially when we travel. You’d be surprised by the number of people we meet who used to live in Wyoming and a few who still do.

    In that plastic container where I keep my caps, one can find a couple of caps from foreign countries, the newest of which is from Hungary, purchased last year while my wife and I were on a river cruise in Europe. After not traveling for a couple of years because of the pandemic, the acts of getting on an airplane and then on a river ship seemed almost foreign, so to come back to the States with a cap from a foreign country seemed most appropriate.

    The other cap bought in a foreign country was purchased well over a decade ago in Russia on the last ocean cruise that we, as a whole family, enjoyed together. One stop on that Baltic Sea odyssey was in St. Petersburg, Russia, a large city with a tremendous amount of historical significance with respect to eastern Europe.

    Our last stop before we returned to the ship one afternoon occurred at a store where tourists could purchase a multitude of Russian mementoes, but what I was most looking forward to was the opportunity to sample the local vodka. After doing so, I wandered around the store waiting for the word to get back on the bus, when I spied a shelf of caps sporting the emblem and acronym from the old Soviet Union.

    I was initially surprised to see them there, but then I thought what a great way for an enterprising individual or several individuals to make a few bucks off the old regime. To me, selling those hats was an example of capitalism in its most pure form, and I wanted to support that effort, plus buying one would give me an opportunity to piss off a few of my fellow countrymen back home.

    I’ve worn that cap quite a bit over the years, and I’m a little disappointed to admit that the only person who has commented on it has been my son-in-law. 

    I haven’t worn that cap in over a year, given the current state of affairs in Ukraine, and most likely I will never wear it again, but it is a memento of time spent with my wife and two daughters, so I’ll keep it.

    I have a couple of hats from automobile companies and one from a lending institution, but like today, when I don’t feel like advertising for anyone, I’ll wear a hat with absolutely nothing on its front.

    More than likely, I’ll add to my bonnet collection in the coming months and/or years. Some readers may be thinking How many caps do you need? 

    And to that question, my only reply would be the following: As many as I have…plus one more.


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