Stories. Every family has them.
My family’s story began with my parents both on skis. Legend has it they were at the top-turn-of-the-nose-dive in Stowe, Vermont when they met, the year was 1950.
Once home, my mother, along with the yarn, cast her spell of love onto the needles she used to knit a long stocking hat for my dad — The Magic Hat — complete with tassel and bell.
CAUTION This is a magic hat, only wash in melted snow.
I am assuming, dear reader, that you have already figured out that my mother’s mystical powers worked. Less than 2 months later they were engaged to be married. Theirs was a marriage that would span over 50 years.
But I am getting ahead of myself…
Monday evening, February 20, 1950
How nice can people be! Talk about surprises! You certainly left this poor boy just a bit dazed. I am truly pleased (and touched, to be perfectly frank). To make something as nice as that represents time and work, but I assure you the hat will get to the land of snow and be christened with due ceremony before very long.
But I don’t understand. Things like this don’t happen very often. This all deserves explanation and maybe we could expedite matters by finding out when and where you expect to be skiing in New England next. Unfortunately M.I.T. is not the easiest of places to get away from, but certainly you’ll be skiing the Ravine before too long and even M.I.T. can not keep people away from there.
In the meantime maybe you should inform me of your other talents, as if skiing, cooking and knitting were not sufficient for any pretty gal to have. One would have to either be blind or a complete fool (and my pride tells me I can see–with the aid of adequate spectacles!) not to wonder about and be interested in anyone, let alone an attractive female, that bothers to make an enviable ski hat complete with tassel and bell for him. So–tell me more of you and your life at 622 Pelhamdale Ave.
For now it is suffice to say thank you very much. It is a terrific hat and pretty darn nice of you to build it.
Skoll, gluewein, and a ski heil!!
P.S. Your instructions for washing will be heeded.
And I imagine her, my mother, tearing open the envelope from Steb when it arrived.
After all, she had mailed a hat with a CAUTION to a veritable stranger. A stranger she had in fact intentionally collided with while skiing — because of by simple prophecy — she knew he was the one.
She got enough goods on him that her own mother would later spy his ski-race results in the newspaper, circle them and then ask her daughter if this, Robert Stebbins of M.I.T., might, in fact, be the Steb her daughter had swooned over when she returned home from the slopes.
And that is how she came to mail the magic hat to one Robert Stebbins. And I can picture her, package in hand, hope in her heart, sidling up to the post-masters counter and leaving it all to fate.
Now, his first letter–the first of what one day would be many–opened on her desk, she penned her response.
March 1, 1950
Hey yourself–I’m awfully glad you like the hat! It was not very difficult to make, really, –except for casting the bell.
As for an explanation. If, as you say, things like that don’t happen very often, it’s because people don’t very often meet people who like magic hats.
Besides, you introduced me to “Ho-la-hi, Ho-la-ho.” I know the words now and can play it on the piano. It is such a free little tune. Sounds as if it escaped from a music box.
Now tell me–how did you happen to come from Seattle to M.I.T. and what kind of engineer do you want to be, and do you like New England?
I was in Seattle just once — for a few days when I was nineteen, and very unhappy at the time. But I liked it.
Haven’t skied any farther away from home than Catamount lately. Went with some kids last Sunday and the snow was wonderful! –good packed powder with just a few ice crystals on top, like sugar on a cookie. It was fast and you could feel your skis bite in. When the tow stopped we hated to go home, so climbed once and came down slowly to make it last.
But vacation is coming soon. According to Joe Dodge, there will be plenty of snow in the Ravine this spring. I’m planning to go up there for a week from March 25 to April 2.
That’s a little earlier than usual, but they are scheduling the Inferno Race for April 1 and 2 weekend, and if they hold to it this year it would be nice to see it. Staying up the following week might be better, but would mean being away on Easter. This year mother would be alone so I’d kind of like to be home.
Do you have a spring vacation anywhere near that time? Maybe I should wish on my magic hat–
P.S. If you lose the bell on your hat, I still have the mold.
Then, telephone calls were horribly expensive, it was 1950–no cell phones, no computers–they had letters that took days to arrive and visits that were few and far between. Yet fall in love they did…
Were he alive today, my father would have turned 90, an age I always believed he’d see.
Now, re-reading his youthful thank you note for the gift of his magic hat, I hear his enthusiasm and curiosity ring through. And it is there between the lines that I imagine him, pen in hand, thinking–lucky, lucky me…
And though they have both been gone for some time now, I can still hear my dad today–as if in a whisper–thanking my mom for “building him the hat.”
Happy Birthday Dad–today it is me who thanks you for believing in magic and wearing that long stocking cap–you were an incredible father. What a gift, I love you, Elin