I wear this little old man hat in memory of Pépère. I’ve been in Greece a few weeks traveling the islands and rural non-touristy regions. I wear this hat and remember fresh bread, homemade butter, cheese, honey from down the road, Bergamot jams, orange marmalades, fresh coffee brewed camp style. Whether it is the smell of Mongol yaks or Grecian goats, I breathe deeply the dander and scent of hay, earth, farming. Grasses combined with grains cling to the hair and hide of these creatures. Manurer — fresh or dried, Chanel of the People. My people from my Mum’s side. Québécois and Indigenous. My first language was French.
I sport this denim newsboy that I bought in a shop up from the pumice-rich beach suckled by the Aegean in the southeastern Cyclades. I’m not too far away from the bandy-legged farmers riding sidesaddle on donkeys with wooden saddles frugally padded with woven brights the color of savory herbs and pollinator vibrants. These farmers — no matter where I am — are my uncles, my Pépère, whiskered faces sun-browned, their clothing carried the essence of each animal they tended, dashed with favorite hand-rolled tobacco. Eyes that hold deep knowing, living, hard labor, truths about life and death. Relationships. Short, barrel-chested men whose love of life is also a resignation and contentment that settles on us — jasmine at nightfall. My Pépère was many things and as a master brick burner traveled extensively after his young wife was struck and killed by lightning in July 1941.
Yes, I wear this aerodynamic lightweight lid, its slight brim cocked off to one side, in memory of my mother’s people who toiled in the agriculture of hardship, cultivating life from sacrifice. In memory not just of celebrations but sorrows tilled under with corn and stalk borers, grape vines and fruit trees, cows and lambs, horses.
Hard work that still keeps us human, and even now on the other side of the planet, I know the smell of a sparkling clean, stainless-steel milk separator like the one that sat to the right of Pépère’s rocking chair and tuna-can spittoon in Uncle Gideau and Aunt Lois’s house — the farm. Pépère would lean up to the troth sink in the kitchen, cleaning smelts under cold water, his hands stiff, fingers knobbed with arthritis. Sometimes, he took me with him to feed his prized roosters his special mix: barley and Five Star Brandy. The Silver Greys, as tall as me, and the Bantams, a lesson in opportunity, reliable fighters, spirit oversize.
Not just any hat this chapeau, its cotton weave produced near lands and mountains roiled with olives, potatoes, tomatoes, and fruit trees. Pride in hands that work the land. This lid that accents my blue-gray and sometimes greenish eyes, honors my mother’s loaves of French bread, yeast breads twelve to twenty-four at a time in Maine winters, temperatures just barely above zero and her setting us kids at the table with butter and hot bread. Or, when we got home from school, Mum sitting at Mémère and Pépère’s lion-claw, round oak table with her tea, bread and butter, taking her time, chores done.
As I do this morning, raving more silence between these rolling waves, silence like Mum at her table set with memories across worn tablecloths and assorted teacups and spoons kept sacred and safe in Mémère’s china cabinet that finally came home to my home.
I wear my steel-gray knitted vest and this old man cap, content to be human in this way knowing what my family is to me, my ancestors — all of you — all of you. I reach for knife and fork, roll my crepe, Québécois style.