A Hat to Match Any Occasion

A man who loses his head at being angry or upset may be better off than most of us. He doesn’t have to worry about which hat to wear.

A hat worn by Armenian adventurist Joe Dagdigian has certainly made the rounds
A hat worn by Armenian adventurist Joe Dagdigian has certainly made the rounds

My closet is full of them and I can’t seem to reduce the supply. At least 15 of them have some Armenian logo attached to the cap that complements a proud ethnicity.

Every year at the Lowell Folk Festival, we have an Armenian booth.  Volunteers are handed a T-shirt and an Armenian cap.  Sometimes, it’s emblazoned with the word “Armenia” and other times, it shows the red, blue and orange insignia of our nation’s colors.

One needs no explanation whatsoever. The tri-color does. It conjures up a question from the unknowing public.

“Hey,” they might intercede.  “What flag is that?”

“Our Armenian colors,” I explain, then take the opportunity to divulge a little history and point out our food booth. “You ought to try our losh kebab or lamejun.”

Someone gave me a monogrammed cap that read, “Kiss me, I’m Armenian.” Back when I was about 40, I wore it to strange places. One day, a bunch of girls rushed over and smothered me with affection while my wife looked on with disdain.

It happened to be an Armenian dance troupe touring Florida and marching in the Main Street Parade.

A month ago at Dana-Farber Institute, I was wearing one of my Armenia hats waiting for a chemotherapy treatment when it caught the attention of a couple sitting diagonally across from me. They were also waiting for an infusion.

Turns out, I had photographed a family wedding in my day and we had a discussion going. The more we talked, the more we had in common.  The hat was an ideal ice-breaker and took our minds away from the treatments that were to follow.

I’ve gone through a hat/cap phase all my life. Back when I was 19 and studying in Vienna, I donned a hat similar to what Captain Von Trapp wore in “The Sound of Music.” Every chance I got, I’d find an assortment of pins you could attach.

Quite often, a stranger would stop you in the street and glance over your collection, resulting in a trade.  Not a bad way to meet people, either, thanks to a hat.

Over the years, I’ve donned sombreros, fedoras, stocking caps that covered your ears, Greek caps that Zorba wore, even a Mickey Mouse hat when I took the grandkids to Disneyland.

They thought their “papa” looked funny in that get-up but I was always a Disney nut anyway. There is one thought I’d like to share. The difference between a guy and a gal buying a hat is about three hours, a tidy sum of money, and a nerve-wracking experience.

My Gazette newspaper always furnished caps for its employees. It quickly set me apart in a crowd. I could only wear it on the job and not to formal gatherings. A felt hat took its place.

The other day, I received an e-mail from an American friend traveling in Armenia. Three months ago, Joe Dagdigian had journeyed to a remote village called Tavush Marz, located in the northeast sector of this country, not far from the Azerbaijan border where conflict looms.

In his haste to leave a church he was visiting, his straw hat was left behind.  You have to know Joe.  He personifies the wayward traveler and that straw hat was every much his persona.

So, he returns to the United States, figuring the hat was gone forever, only to return three months later.  Back he goes to Tavush Marz to explore the region around Berd.

“We passed a small church in the village of Tovuz,” he describes. “The lighting was beautiful and though I had photographed the church during a previous visit, I couldn’t recall the quality of my previous photographs. So we stopped briefly so I could take a few more pictures just to be sure I had a good one.”

After shooting the outside, Dagdigian decides to investigate the interior of this 400-year-old structure. As fate would have it, there, laying on a table, was the straw hat he had left behind, keeping company with a cross.

It was the same hat he had lost a few months ago—one that had fallen to age and ready for Hat Heaven. It was like being reunited with an old friend.

“Each year, I go through two, three such hats which costs about $2 apiece,” he says. “Someone must have found it and left it on that table, figuring I’d come back.”

Dagdigian retrieved his straw hat and left a $20 bill in the collection plate as a gesture of appreciation.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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