My Papa wore a Stetson.
I never found it odd or out of place when I was a child or a teenager, even though he was the only person I knew that wore one.
A middle school friend, upon meeting him for the first time, asked,
“Is your Grandpa a cowboy?”
“Yes,” I replied.
From left to right: Mary (my mama) on her horse “Sally,” Papa, and Kay (my aunt) on her horse “Sleepy.”
Now, he wasn’t a cowboy as historic standards dictate. He didn’t wrangle cattle for a living or take part in westward expansion. But, he was a cowboy and he had style—not the kind that wore a five piece suit or fancy watch, but the kind that would win all your money in a poker game and proceed to tell you all the moves you SHOULD have made.
Christmastime at home in the early 1960’s.
The kind, as a product of the Great Depression, that carried an obscene amount of cash in one pocket and a gun in the other. The kind that went to Sunday School and “Training Union,” read The Daily Bread, and cooked supper for us every evening.
Papa on his way to church.
The kind that worked hard everyday of his life AND made time to be at every volleyball and softball practice I ever had. I knew he was there because I could see his hat in the crowd.
He taught me not to have fear; it was okay to get scared, but fear was different.
He wasn’t perfect. Sometimes we’d get into massive arguments over a wide range of things, including the use of the word “awesome” (which he despised for no particular reason) and the pronunciation of “taco” (which he pronounced with a long “a”). However, I never feared our disagreements would last the night. It would be over, and things would be the same again.
That was the greatest part about his style- his sameness. He treated everyone the same, whether you were Dolly Parton or a stranger.
“Why would I treat someone any differently? He puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like me.”
And that’s me, wearing my Papa’s Stetson, in 1984.
Papa died in 1999 at the age of 85. But, even though he’s been gone for more than 15 years, he is as present in my life as ever.
I hear his voice, I use his card tricks, and when life’s troubles seem unending– I pretend I’m putting on his Stetson and I have no fear.
A lot of time and money is spent on “style;” finding our own, dressing our homes in it, and maintaining it in public.
I needed to be reminded that all of that time is not wasted or petty if I remember that our real style is who we are… it’s how we treat each other… and it’s how we react to challenges.
My Papa, James “Red” Evans, Jr., had unforgettable style.
He wore a Stetson, was scared of no one, and lived a life that still inspires me today.
*This month’s issue of Garden & Gun names “50 Perfect Southern Things.” The Stetson is number eleven and it warmed my heart to see it again.