Tuesday, October 9, 2012


This post is mostly about the continuing presence of Congo in our family life.  I spent the most formative years of my childhood in Africa – from age 5 to age 17, with a couple years of furlough back at a place in the States called “home” that never was actually home. Little bits of Congo are scattered all over my life, underpinning my decisions, coloring my outlook.  Surely everyone's childhood stays with them in such ways.  I still carry a  poem in my wallet that I wrote while suffering severe homesickness during a Stateside furlough… “home, I long to go home, back to the Congo”.  Africa truly never leaves the soul. 

So what does all that have to do with hats?  I’ll show you!  We have two very broad-brimmed hats made of some kind of fiber, with a  few purple bands decorating the weave.  These hats were acquired at some point in Kivuvu – possibly brought to the back door by a vendor. There often was someone at the back door, with live mice in woven traps for our pet mongoose, or carvings, or vegetables, a giant stalk of bananas, or… hats.  The hats made for wonderful child portraits.  Here, my little sister Sara gives us such a beautiful smile!

Next, my brother Dan, a bit more thoughtful:

 And finally, my brother George and his fellow adventurer Tommy, determined!  
Note the slingshot around George’s neck, the dirt and scrapes on both boys, the general lack of decent footwear.  These guys were heading out to the wild bush! The big hat was all part of the package.
Forty years later, more or less, our family was together again for a Thanksgiving celebration at my sister’s place.  The Congo hats came out again, to be savored and played with.  I took a deep sniff of the brim, and thought I smelled a bit of Congo still in the fibers.  Those hats traveled with us from Congo to Hawaii to Pennsylvania to Maryland, and are part of our family heritage. They may not last  another forty years, but I’m glad we still have them now. 
Sara is still has her charming smile,

George still has a slingshot at the ready,

Dan is still pensive.
But we still get goofy,

and hide behind the brim,

with smiles all around.

The next generation likes the hats too! 

I'm so glad we have each other to share those memories.  When we get together it is so much fun to tell the stories, to hear new tales, to remember the good times and the bad. Our family was hardly perfect - still isn't - but that shared experience means so much to me.  No one else knows quite what it was like to be us, then. 

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