A lone hat dangled from the rack by the door for thirty years. She refused to move it, and we weren’t allowed to touch it.
“That belongs to your father,” she said. “He might decide he needs it one day. I don’t want that hat missing when he walks through the door.”
Us kids knew he wasn’t coming back. He was sleeping with the fishes, for all we cared. When he stomped out the house, slamming the door hard the window panes shook and clattered, none of us shed a tear. Not even Mother. She was used to him leaving.
She was also used to him coming back, nonchalantly throwing his hat on the rack and strolling to the dining room where meat and potatoes warmed his plate at the head of the table.
“Today, I almost made us rich!” he’d exclaim. “Today, I almost made us a million dollars. But then that stupid horse had to stumble near the end. Damn thing deserved the bullet they put in its head.”
That cued Betsy, the baby sister, to cry. She hated when anything died, even the spider which Bo smashed with his shoe when he caught it creeping around his room.
“Dear, don’t talk about the races in front of the children,” Mother reprimanded our father. “You know it upsets them.”
“Dammit, woman, this is my house, and I’ll talk about whatever I damned want to!”
To emphasize his dominance, he banged his heavy fist on the table, rattling the silverware balanced on our plates.
“Damned horse deserved to die!” he yelled. “We coulda been rich today!”
But we weren’t, and we’d given up believing his dreams of striking gold with magical horses who flew through the air and boats that delivered mysterious crates to the docks on the lower side of town. When he stayed out late, my brothers and sisters huddled in a bedroom and prayed for a father who went to a normal job from 9 to 5, who came home and kissed our mother on the cheek, and who played catch with us in the yard on Sunday afternoons.
That man never set foot in our house, not even to retrieve the hat he left on the rack one night in his rush to get out the door and meet his next get-rich-quick scheme. For thirty years, Mother held out hope he’d return with his million dollars and all our problems would be solved.
And that hat had no choice but to wait for the same.