But I’ve got a hat that is one of my favorite pieces of outdoor gear that nobody else has. It’s my Farley Hat. It’s a camo Indiana Jones meets Fedora style hat, but the style isn’t important. The important part is it was given to me nearly 20 years ago by my good friend Gary Farley, who has since passed away. Gary was a regional manager for International Paper’s forestry division. Occasionally he would get special gifts as awards for employees in the region. I didn’t work for him, but he usually included me when he could. One time it was these hats. Gary special ordered one for me (yes, to fit my size 8 head, thank you very much). I’ve always liked it, but treasure it since we lost Gary to cancer.
It’s my favorite “award” from my working days.
Gary and I had a lot of good times together, many of them raising our kids who were about the same age. We spent way too many hours to count in area gyms and ball fields. But the best times where when we would have “company business” that required both of us. He introduced me to the North Fork Lodge along the Ouachita River down near Columbia, where we had many good days of basically doing nothing. We often stopped by there on the way home from meetings in nearby Pineville. One day, we had a company “big-wig” with us and went through the Caldwell Parish woods to show it to him. There was a nice pond there full of largemouth bass. Amazingly, I had just happened to slip a rod and reel with a plastic worm on it in the back of the company van. As we got out at the pond, I got it out and our visitor quickly pointed out we didn’t have time to fish. I told him give me three casts and I’d show him a fish. He agreed. On the second cast, I landed about a four-pound bass. He was amazed and asked, “Is that one of those Florida Bass?”
I’ve never been one for a straight answer when a humorous one would do, so I held it up and looked from behind and answered, “I don’t know. I’ll have to check it’s license plate”. Sometimes my humor is lost on folks. This was one of those times. While our guest didn’t think it was that funny, Gary was biting a hole in his lip and slipping back behind the van to hide so no one could see he was about to bust out in a belly laugh. But Farley told that story more times than I did, always with a big grin on his face saying he didn’t know whether I was going to get whipped or fired….Fortunately, I survived with neither. North Fork became a popular meeting place for company gatherings. The two of us were always more than glad to be hosts, even if it meant frying up some fish or roasting a deer rump for the visiting crowd. Sometimes we even had to go down the night before to make sure everything was right for the next day. Somebody had to do it. Today, the lodge has been sold to private interests, as have all of the company’s timberlands. Money’s gotta be made somehow to pay for all these fancy hats, I guess.
The ladies in my office knew the code words for when I was going somewhere with Gary. It went something like this: I would say, “In case anybody asks, I’m at an off-site woodlands meeting and won’t be back this afternoon. By the way, we don’t get cell service there.” There was always something official that needed to be checked on. And it was honestly usually in the woods.
Gary was also a member of a group of friends that worked together that met every Tuesday afternoon to sample various foods and beverages out in the shop at Mike Parker’s outdoor kitchen. The weekly event is called the “Tea Party”, and was way before anybody used that term in relationship to conservative politics like it is today.
My Farley Hat has since seen some great times in the outdoors. He would be proud. It’s gone down to the boat dock to go fishing at least 100 times. It’s gone bass fishing in places too numerous to mention and has survived duck hunts where it should have been left home in more civil conditions. I even almost lost it one time in a move. I had set it out where I could make sure and keep my hands on it. We were getting ready to pull out and follow a moving van when I asked, “Where’s my Farley hat?” One of the movers had put it in a box in the garage that was to be donated to charity. Now I’m a charitable guy, but not my Farley Hat. No sir. I rescued it and drove it from Memphis on the back seat of my truck where I could keep it safe.
Today, it even goes to the mailbox with me on most days this time of the year to keep my head warm and dry. And when I really need a mess of fish and I’m not sure where to catch them, I put it on and go wherever it tells me to. I don’t think it’s let me down once.