A dinner rush. There’s a line of young, fashionably dressed people in this fancy restaurant, waiting for tables. Actually, it’s more like an angry mob with skinny jeans and low blood sugar.
I’d rather go to a Waffle House, if you ask me, but my wife is hellbent on eating here.
There’s a child ahead of me. He’s with his parents. He’s an animated kid. I notice him because he is wearing a leather football helmet—the kind college lineman wore in the ‘20’s.
I ask the kid about the piece of nostalgia on his noggin.
The child seems uncomfortable. He doesn’t look me in the eye. He looks at the wall and says in a loud voice, “My linebacker hat.”
I ask if he’s a linebacker for the Tigers.
“No,” he says. “I just like hats.”
Well, as it happens I am a hat man myself. For my first day of school I wore a ten-gallon hat, chaps, and holster.
My teacher stopped me at the classroom door, reminding me that gentlemen never wear hats inside. Then, she told me to check my iron at the door.
It was to be the last day I ever wielded dual peacemakers.
“We have TONS of hats,” says the boy’s mother. “My husband was online last night ordering a hundred more.”
She explains that her son has autism. He also has a major stockpile of headwear. Sailor hats, baseball hats, flight gear, astronaut caps, stocking caps, even a genuine Auburn football helmet.
“At first,” she said. “We couldn’t get him to wear ANYTHING on his head. It would make him freak out. But then, something changed.”
It started with a knit cap she bought from Target. Her son liked the color of it. He wore it until the thing started to fall apart.
One day, her husband found a leather gridiron helmet in an antique store. He bought it to decorate his home office. The boy had the thing secure on his head the moment he saw it.
The rest is history.
“When I found out he had autism,” says the boy’s father. “I was kinda scared, I won’t lie. But now I know there’s nothing to be scared of. We’re embracing it.”
The man lightly pats the boy’s shoulder, but the child doesn’t like it. He hollers.
The man tells me he is learning more about his son every day. As a result, the hat collection keeps growing.
Because it’s more than hats. The hats are a way to love a boy who doesn’t show his love the same way they do.
The man says, “To see my son get excited about a new hat is the highlight of my day. I’d sell everything I own just to see him smile. I love him more than my own life.”
Our conversation is over. The hostess calls them. Their table is ready. I wave goodbye.
“CAN I ORDER SQUID, DAD?” the kid says in a loud voice. “I WANT SQUID!”
Before they leave, the daddy winks at me while his son is hollering.
The man and I shake hands. “God bless you,” he says.
He certainly did tonight.