Hats: A Communication Aid
By Diana Chatham Callaway
As I wheeled the cart toward my car in the grocery store parking lot, a gent using his cane to push up the car’s hatchback and wearing a billed cap called out, “I love your hat.” Figuring that he was not envious of my multi-colored, striped, obviously female sun hat, I assumed that he was starting a conversation. I moved closer to read the logo on his billed cap—U.S. Navy—and replied, “And I am impressed with yours. When or where did you serve?”
That question opened the verbal gates. “Twenty-five years, all over the world. I helped bring former prisoners out of Vietnam.” Then he named some other locations.
When I commented that my husband had served in the Coast Guard, he said he had worked occasionally alongside Coast Guardsmen. He praised their work saving lives. As he went on garrulously recalling personal history, the young woman accompanying him—obviously annoyed by his tendency to take up her time conversing happily with strangers—finished plopping grocery bags in the back of the car, and without a word, climbed in and started the engine, rude evidence that she was impatient for him to shut up and get in.
As he opened a passenger door of the car, he asked, “Is your husband still with us?” When I replied in the negative, the old fellow straightened up, tipped his hat, briefly saluted, and added: “Put a flower on his grave for me.”