Herald and Journal, April 19, 1999

The 500 hats of Thomas Fink


When I returned from my trip to England, my bags were much more overstuffed than when I left. Souvenir shopping was one of the highlights of the trip.

Tom had told me not to bring anything back for him. I almost didn't. Then I decided I should bring home at least a token gift. I bought a hat.

Just what Tom needed, another baseball cap. This one is different from the others he has hanging on his hat rack in the kitchen. Most of those are farm hats.

Tom puts on a hat every day when he heads for the barn. When he comes in, he never hangs his hat on the hat rack. He lays it on the bench by the door. That way he can pick it up and put it on as he heads out the door.

That's where his hat was laying when the kids were assembled for Easter dinner. That evening before our kids and their families went home, we noticed his current hat on the bench.

Holding it out for our daughters to see, I said, "What do you think girls, does it go or does it stay?" The hat got a very definite thumbs down. I casually strolled over to the garbage and tossed it in. I didn't scrunch it down too far, just out of sight. If Tom raised too much of a fuss, I could resurrect it.

The hat in question came from the Canadian fishing camp where Tom fished last summer. It started out a light gray color. You could still tell the color on the back, but the name on the front was impossible to read. It was completely plastered with what I would call "cow dander."

When Tom goes in by a cow to put the milking machine on, he rests his head on the cows flank. To put it mildly, a cows flank would not win the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. If you would analyze the contents, no doubt you would find dirt, dust, sweat, urine and manure. After all, manure happens.

Why would anyone wear a hat like this? When you have it on your head, you can't see the gunk that is plastered on the front of it. It just perches there for everyone else to admire.

There may be two reasons why Tom clings to his old, grimy hats;

1. He really hates to part with a hat once it is broken in. A well-worn hat is a comfy hat.

2. When visiting farm implement dealers and seed corn salesmen, they take a look at the old, cruddy hat he is wearing. They think he needs a new one and so, donate one to the cause.

He has hats on the rack from A.M.P.I., NK Sandoz Seed, and CT Farm and Country, among others. In good time, they will all be introduced to the barn.

Other hats on the rack could be called his "good hats." These only make the trip to places like Fleet Farm and Home Depot. They are special hats, like his Farmland Top Dairy Producer hats, the hat my mother brought back from Hawaii, and the London Millennium 2000 hat that I just added to the collection.

The other morning, Tom went out the basement door wearing two hats at the same time. It is taking a little while to get a new hat broken in.

"What's the matter," I said, "Can't you decide which one to wear?"

"No," he said, "I want to have an extra one down in the barn, just in case."

Jesy and I are calling him the Bartholomew Cubbins of the barn.

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