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AMERICAN STORIES - Papa's Straw Hat

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Now, the VOA Special English program -- AMERICAN STORIES.

Our story this week is called "Papa's Straw Hat". It was written by Fred Gipson. Here is Shep O'Neal to tell you the story.

Papa was a rancher. He worked with horses. He was proud of the way he dressed. He always wore clean clothes, even when he worked. That is very difficult for a rancher who works outside on a horse farm.

He often said to me, "Son, you may not be able to buy the best clothes, but always keep those you have clean. That is the important thing."

And Papa did what he said. His clothes were never dirty like those of most of the other ranchers I knew. Papa never worked outside without a hat. And he always wore the same kind of hat. It was a cowboy hat, a large black hat of heavy wool.

He never pushed the hat to one side of his head, but wore it straigh. And he did not push the top of the hat down like most cowboys do. He wore his hat full and high. I think he wanted to look taller than he really was.

Papa had two hats. One was his Sunday hat and the other his everyday hat. When his Sunday hat got old, he wore it every day and then bought a new Sunday hat.

He wore his Sunday hat only to church, or on holidays, or when he visited the city. Most of the time he kept his Sunday hat in a special box. He hid it so we could not find it.

Papa loved his hats, and he cared for them in a special way. He never threw them down on a chair-someone might sit on them.

He even had a special place for his everyday hat. As soon as he came into the house from work, he put his hat on a nail behind the kitchen door.

Mama was also very careful of Papa's hat. She was proud of the way he looked when he worked, or when he wore his Sunday hat and his best clothes. But she was not Permitted to touch his Sunday hat.

But then something happened. Maybe it was the heat of the long summer. Maybe Mama read about hats in a magazine or book. But in some way she got the idea that Papa should not wear a heavy wool cowboy hat in the hot weather. She began to believe that Papa would lose his hair if he did. Mama began to worry more about Papa's hair than about his hats.

Perhaps it was Uncle George that made Mama worry about Papa's hair. Uncle George had no hair. His head was as Smooth as an egg. But Papa had thick black hair that shone like silk. It would be terrible if Papa lost his hair because he wore a heavy, wool, cowboy hat.

And so Mama began to worry. She began to watch Papa carefully as he worked in the hot fields under his tall heavy hat. She saw how wet his hair was when he came into the house.

Mama began to talk abou hats.

"Papa," she said one day. "Why don't you throw that old wool hat away and get a nice cool straw hat?"

"What?"' Papa said. "Me wear a straw hat! I would never let my horses see me in a straw hat!"

"Horses," Mama answered. "What have horses to do with a straw hat? Animals don't care what kind of hat you wear!"

"Mine do," Papa said. "My horses recognize me because I always wear the same hat, and they like cowboy hats best of all. Anyway," he said, "I would not be seen dead in a straw hat!"

Mama talked and talked, but she could not change Papa's mind. They talked about hats all summer long. And at last Mama tried to frighten Papa to get him to wear a straw hat.

"Papa," she said, "just look at most of the ranchers we know. All of them wear heavy wool cowboy hats in the summer, and most of them have lost their hair."

Papa laughed at Mama. He laughed so hard the tears ran dowd his face and his stomach hurt. But his laughing did not stop Mama. She told him about Jim Berry. who lost his hair about two years ago.

And Papa, a little angry, answered: "It was not a cowboy hat that made Jim Berry lose his hair. It was his wife always talking about hats and not giving him any peace and quiet."

Mama said nothing. She stopped talking about hats. I wondered what was going to happen. Then one day Mama got up earlier than usual. She marched to the kitchen and made breakfast. She had a very serious look on her face and did not say a word. She made more noise than usual and banged the dishes down so hard I thought they would break.

Suddenly, She got in the car and drove toward the city. She did not tell us why she was going, but later she came home with a straw hat. She still looked very serious.

There had been little rain that year. It was a bad year for ranchers. We had little money. But it was the year for Papa to buy a new cowboy hat. Mama knew this. She also thought that if she spent money for a straw hat, Papa would not spend any money to buy a cowboy hat.

Mama was right, When Papa saw the straw hat his face got red. He said nothing, but pulled the straw hat down over his head until it hid his eyes. He Iooked very funny. I wanted to laugh but I didn't. I was afraid to because Papa was so angry.

I remember how quiet he was. as he marched out of the house.

I followed him that day. He was going to train the wild horses again and I loved to watch him work. He had gotten the horses earlier in the year but they were still half- wild, half-trained.

Papa slowly walked toward the field where the horses were eating grass. He was a good rancher because he was gentle with horses, never cruel to them. He had given the horses names and always called to them when he first saw them in the morning. He talked softly to them so they would not be afraid. Sometimes the horses walked up to him when he called their names.

They knew his cowboy hat, which he wore everyday, and they did not feel safe near any other person.

I followed Papa as he walked toward the field calling their names. At first, the horses continued to eat. But as Papa got closer the horses looked up at him.

Suddenly, they jumped high into the air, raising their front feet. Then, they began to run around, wildly. They screamed the way frightened horses do. One horse kicked a hay wagon over. All of them ran around and around in the field and then raced toward the barn where they slept.

I never heard such a noise. Papa began to shout "Whoa boys, steady boys steady...." But there was nothing he could do.

He marched toward the house, while inside the barn the frightened horses screamed and kicked hard against the walls of the barn.

Mama came running out of the house. She stood near the door waiting for Papa. She held her hands against her heart.

"What is it Papa, what is it?"

Papa did not answer. She held the door open and he marched into the house. Mama followed him.

I went in after them to see what was going to happen. Papa walked straight to the stove in the kitchen. He opened the top of the stove, pulled the straw hat off his head and pushed it deep down into the fire.

At last, he turned to Mama and looked at her in a way that even frightened me.

I never heard Papa so angry. He shouted and shouted all sorts of new words. At last, his anger was gone and he said in a soft, but firm voice, "Now listen to me, Mama. Understand this! I will never wear a straw hat, or any other kind of hat my horses do not like!"

Then he put on his Sunday cowboy hat and walked out of the house.

It was almost midnight when the noise died away and the animals became quiet. The next day, Papa fixed all the broken wood in the walls of the barn.

I never heard Mama talk any more about hats. Perhaps that is why when Papa died, many years later, there was a round spot on the top of his head where there was no hair.

(THE END)

Fred Gipson's Biographical Sketch

Frederick Benjamin Gipson, journalist and author of western and children's literature, was born February 7, 1908, near Mason, Texas. As the son of cotton farmers, Gipson worked as a field laborer while attending Mason High School. After graduating in 1926, Gipson worked as a goat driver, mule skinner, and day laborer before enrolling as a journalism major at the University of Texas in 1933. That same year Gipson won a writing contest for which J. Frank Dobie, the Texas folklore writer, was a judge. Gipson's winning story, "Hard-Pressed Sam," was later published in the Southwest Review. He also wrote for the University's student paper, The Daily Texan. Gipson married Tommie Eloise Wynn in 1940 with whom he had two children; they were divorced in 1964. In 1967 Gipson was married to Angelina Torres.

Gipson's career as a newspaper reporter and columnist from 1937 to 1940 included work for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, the Denver Post, the San Angelo Standard-Times, and the Paris, Texas News. In 1940 Gipson moved back to Mason, Texas, where he began writing a syndicated newspaper column, "Around Our Place," as well as fiction for pulp western publications. In 1943 Gipson sold his first story to Colliers magazine, followed by sales to other magazines such as Reader's Digest, Look, and Liberty. His first book, Fabulous Empire: Colonel Zack Miller's Story,was published in 1946. Other nonfiction works by Gipson include Big Bend, with J. Oscar Langford (1952), Cowhand: the Story of a Working Cowboy (1953), and The Cow Killers: With the Afton Commission in Mexico (1956).

Although he was successful as a writer of nonfiction, it was as a novelist that Gipson became best known. In 1945 Gipson met literary agent Maurice Crain, which led to a long-term association between the two Texans. Gipson's first best sellers, Hound-Dog Man (1949) and The Home Place (1950), were listed in the New York Times best seller list and were optioned for film rights by Twentieth Century-Fox. From 1953 to 1955 Gipson wrote for and served as associate editor of True West, a pulp magazine of nonfiction western stories founded by Joe A. Small. From the mid-1950s to early 1960s, Gipson published four more novels for young readers, Trail Driving Rooster (1955), Recollection Creek (1955), Old Yeller (1956), and Savage Sam (1962). Gipson wrote the screen adaptation of Old Yeller (1958) for Walt Disney Studios as well as the screen adaptations of Hound-Dog Man (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1959) and Savage Sam (Walt Disney Studios, 1963).

Gipson was the recipient of several literary awards including the William Allen White Children's Book Award, 1959 and the First Sequoyah Award, Oklahoma, 1959. In 1965 Gipson became president of the Texas Institute of Letters and was named a “Fellow” in 1970. Gipson died at his ranch in Mason County on August 17, 1973, and was, by special proclamation of the governor, buried in the State Cemetery in Austin, Texas. Two of his novels for young readers, Little Arliss (1978) and Curley and the Wild Boar (1980), were published posthumously.

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