Santa came to my house in coonskin this year — in a Davy Crockett coonskin hat, to be precise.
I couldn’t wait for Christmas Day. I had to open the box as soon as I got it. And when I opened it and saw my new coonskin hat it was 1955 again, I was Fess Parker once more, King of the Wild Frontier!
I was eleven years old in Oakland, California, when Walt Disney made Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen legends and every kid in America wanted a coonskin hat.
I wanted one too, but not just ANY coonskin cap. I wanted the real thing. You see, the caps were so popular, so much in demand, makers sold them made of rabbit fur or no fur at all, just make-believe fuzzy look-alike simulated fur.
I knew my folks would never understand a wanna-be Davy Crockett’s desperation for the real thing, so I managed a ‘deal’ with my Mom. If she’d let ME choose the coonskin cap and if she’d pay half, I’d save paper route money and pay the other half for my dream coonskin.
So-called coonskin caps were everywhere and on every youngster’s head. But finding the right one to make my heart sing “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” was another matter.
I located my treasure at Maxwell’s Department Store in downtown Oakland. I don’t know what the department store called the department selling coonskin hats but to me it was the Department-of-Dreams. The hat was the real thing.
I can’t remember how many times I visited Maxwell’s just to admire my coonskin hat on its display hook while I saved money that autumn to cover my half of the Christmas hat treasure. Nuisance to the staff or not, I needed to renew faith that the hat was more than a dream, that my hat was still there, and that it was as amazing as remembered. The sales people seemed to recognize my vigilance was a heart-matter more real than Disney’s TV serial.
Having recently blogged about the need to feel not merely the ‘whirl’ of the Christmas season, but it’s heart-depth, I seized the moment, followed a child-like impulse, and Googled coonskin hats. I found a Canadian firm that makes them.
Rainer Maria Rilke, the German poet, says ” . . . we are closest to the center of our lives at the point where according to our own means we most closely resemble the child.”
Christian scripture sets the bar for entry into the Kingdom of Heaven at “. . . becoming as little children.”
I knew by the boyish grin all over my face, all over my house, that I touched a sacred place in the Temple of Lost Yesterdays when I ordered on-line my new coonskin hat. It’s the real thing, complete with the little face sewn onto the front of the hat– just like my prototype of long ago.
I hope the totem spirit of my raccoon whose life brings meaning to mine finds a measure of compensation in my old man’s boyish joy. That creature who gave his life for me, like the Scotties whose lives make mine whole, turns out to be more important to my psyche than I can say.
Becoming as little children is about breaking out of “man-forged manacles” we call adulthood, that adulthood which humbugs dreaming as childish. It’s about the wide-eyed wonder of the beginner’s mind. It’s about feeling all over again not what we dreamed as a child, but how we dreamed and keeping the juice of dreaming alive within.
As Disney used to say in his theme song, it’s about keeping alive, whatever your age, the magic of “When we wish upon a star.”
Joseph Harvill, publisher Great Scots Magazine