Off North Road

Top hat

By Russell Hoxsie - August 23, 2007

The Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Fair always sparks memories: the heroic successes of Trina Kingsbury's wood chopping, Fred Fisher's drag horses, the year I thought my young son's swinging our seat would catapult us from the Ferris wheel on which I have been uneasy since I was a five-year-old kid, the endlessly stickiness of spun-cotton candy, undeniably the best sweet on the fair grounds, fried dough, batter-fried lily blossoms, hot dogs, dart games which I could never win and uncountable stuffed dolls and animals which our children cherished until age and dust consigned them to oblivion.

My only personal souvenir has been a unique pale blue cap embossed with quilted figures, which, at a distance, recalls gold braid from an admiral's dress hat. However, as you grow nearer and eyes focus, you discover the braid is formed into a row of quilted pigs, not piglets but yellow-gold full-grown pigs, three along the outer border on each side of the cap's visor. They all seem to be rooting for something to eat but the field is barren.

My cap always drew stares from passers-by as they moved closer for a good look followed by a sort of snort. (How appropriate did they realize their exclamations were?) Following aggie fairs brought the same entrepreneurial jokester to his booth with his caps, indistinguishable from the previous years, until one year he arrived with the same hats but with only a single pig aboard each hat. "Too expensive to make," he said. "Lost money!" And I never saw him or his pigs again. They were unique, I thought. The cap was a classic. It embodied all sorts of humorously ironic sentiments from the image of gold pigs suggesting the character of the admiral beneath the hat or reference to top ranks in the Navy in general or a flash of resentment against authority or even some critique of summer tourists buying unnecessary gimcracks on a summer vacation among the wealthy of Martha's Vineyard.

Even the characterization of female versus male could have been a target or machismo vs. submissiveness: the cap's visor was soft cardboard and could not be swept to the head in one quick motion; rather the cap was plopped on with care to tuck loose hair behind cap's edges as a woman might don a fancy chapeau.

For several months into one fall, the last time I wore my pig-braid cap, I lost it, certain that some like-minded good person had taken a moral fall and stolen my hat but, before many days had passed, the cap turned up miraculously in my own back hall closet. Oh, how I love those scrambled eggs on my faded blue cap!