by Kari Diane Pike
I love hats. As a teenager I owned several different kinds of hats, despite their unpopularity among the "fashionable" crowd. I often wished I had grown up in an earlier era when a woman never left the house without donning her favorite chapeau. Lately, however, I have been contemplating the figurative hats that we wear: daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, grandmother, friend, cook, housekeeper, employee/employer, chauffeur, activities director, health care specialist, teacher, and many, many others.
I've had fun wearing a variety of those hats this summer as a parade of children and grandchildren visited our home. Last week I tried on a new hat. Dad, who has been caring for my disabled mother for nearly twenty years, suddenly needed a caregiver of his own. Picture in your mind a three-year-old clomping down the sidewalk in her mother's much too large heels and an over-sized floppy hat that keeps slipping over her eyes. I feel like that little girl as I try to wear this new "adult care-giver" hat.
As each day passes, the fit gets a little better. A sense of humor is by far one of the best "sizers." I flew to Phoenix Saturday evening. While Dad still manifested many of the symptoms of a recovering stroke patient, confusion, weakness, speech deficiency, etc., I could tell he was determined to regain his health and independence. Early Monday morning Dad told me he needed me to take him somewhere.
"Where do you want to go Dad?"
"I need you to take me to the track."
"Why do you want to go to the track?"
" I need you to take me to the track because I need to find Austin. He owes me $43.00 and I need to collect before he loses it."
"OK, Dad. At nine o'clock, I'll take you to the track."
Mom overheard the conversation and motioned for me to come talk to her. She informed me that Dad was still under home-health services and was not allowed to leave the house except for doctor appointments and a church service. Oh. Dad growled a bit and announced that he really needed to collect the money from Austin.
"Dad, do you want me to go to the track for you? You could describe Austin to me and tell me where to find him."
Dad's countenance brightened as he gave me directions to the track and a description of the man who owed him the money. "Austin's a big, obese guy with adenoid problems. You can't miss him. They know me down there as Richey, the Banker. You tell him you're Richey the Banker's daughter and you're there to collect the money he owes me."
I found the keys to my parents' mini van and made the two-mile drive to the race track. The nearly empty parking lot created a bit of apprehension. What was I thinking? I was looking for a complete stranger in order to collect a gambling debt. All the murder mystery novels I've read came flooding back to my mind as I got out of the car and followed the sidewalk. What if...? An older gentleman wearing a western shirt, jeans and cowboy boots came out through the big glass doors of the clubhouse entrance. He tipped his hat and gave me a half smile as he passed by. The breath I had been holding whooshed out. I told myself to stop letting my imagination run away. I took another deep breath and made my way up the escalator and turned to the right, just like Dad told me. He said I could find Austin at a table in the far corner, against the windows. Only Austin wasn't there. None of the tables in front of the windows had occupants. A gentleman's voice echoed in the nearly empty clubhouse. I walked around a pillar and spotted the source of the voice.
"Can I help you?" the man asked as I approached. He stood and closed his cell phone. He had a pleasant enough countenance despite the salesman schmooze I heard him using on the phone. I felt safe asking for his help. Another man walked came into the room and stood nearby. At least I had a witness, or maybe not. What if they were together? Perspiration dripped down the middle of my back.
"Yes. Thank you. Do you know if Austin is here?"
"Why would you be looking for Austin?" His tone of voice emphasized the "you" and "Austin" in such a way that I began once again to doubt the wisdom of my errand.
"He doesn't owe you any money, does he?" The second man stood staring at me, his arms crossed in front, as they both waited for my answer.
"I'm Richey, the Banker's daughter and he's laid up and can't leave the house. He sent me to collect from Austin."
"Richey who?" The salesman frowned in confusion trying to place "Richey the Banker."
The other man's head snapped back in recognition. "Oh! Are you talking about Richard? I know Richard."
"Yes, I'm Richard's daughter. He told me what to say to Austin and ask for the money."
"Austin stiffs everybody. He stiffed me three different times. If I was you, I'd go get some cash and just tell your dad that you collected. Tell you what, if we see Austin, we'll even try to collect for your Dad."
Relieved, I nodded, expressed my thanks, and hurried out of the clubhouse as quickly as I could. I climbed into the car and started the engine. A blast of cold air from the vent chilled my sweaty body and made me shiver. I put on my seat belt and sat back in the chair. The previous five minutes replayed through my mind. Richey the Banker's daughter? Really? I giggled. How ridiculous had I looked to those guys in there? Of course, you know what I thought next. Some day this will be a scene in a book...you know...house wife and grandmother of 14 becomes super sleuth. Picture a cross between "Murder, She Wrote" and "Charlie's Angels." It could happen! Now all I need to do is pick the color of hat I want to wear.