Friday, July 14, 2017

Sepia Saturday 376: Memoir: Paul-Hector Fortier

“However faded the print may be,  the celebrations are clearly visible, with flags flying and the very best hats being worn. The occasion was the opening of the new pavilion for the Beverley Town Cricket, Bowling and Athletic Club, in Beverley, East Yorkshire. The eagle eyed amongst us may just notice a cricket score in the background. Whatever game you play and whatever theme you care to identify and follow in this fine old photograph, all you have to do is to post a post on or around Saturday 15th July 2017.”

All I have is the hat as a match for the prompt this week. Happily, my favorite poet, Billy Collins, our former Poet Laureate, wrote about hats. 

by Billy Collins
Once every man wore a hat.
In the ashen newsreels,
the avenues of cities
are broad rivers flowing with hats.
The ballparks swelled
with thousands of straw hats,
brims and bands,
rows of men smoking
and cheering in shirtsleeves.
Hats were the law.
They went without saying.
You noticed a man without a hat in a crowd.
You bought them from Adams or Dobbs
who branded your initials in gold
on the inside band.
Trolleys crisscrossed the city.
Steamships sailed in and out of the harbor.
Men with hats gathered on the docks.
There was a person to block your hat
and a hatcheck girl to mind it
while you had a drink
or ate a steak with peas and a baked potato.
In your office stood a hat rack.
The day the war was declared
everyone in the street was wearing a hat
and they were wearing hats
when a ship loaded with men sank in the icy sea.
My father wore one to work every day
and returned home
carrying the evening paper,
the winter chill radiating from his overcoat.
But today we go bareheaded
into the winter streets,
stand hatless on frozen platforms.
Today the mailboxes on the roadside
and the spruce trees behind the house
wear cold white hats of snow.
Mice scurry from the stone walls at night
in their thin fur hats
to eat the birdseed that has spilled.
And now my father, after a life of work,
wears a hat of earth,
and on top of that,
A lighter one of cloud and sky--a hat of wind.

Pictured above is my grandfather, Paul-Hector Fortier, aka Onesime but known in our household, to my parents as Hector—to me, he was Grandpa. In his arms is J. Hector-Louis-Ovide Fortier, known to me as Uncle Louis. The pose—a man, holding an infant son—is striking for the times.

Hector was twenty-five; Uncle Louis was six months. The year was 1908. They were in in Letellier, Manitoba, Canada, living on a farm. Or they may have been in Provencher nearby on another farm. I can't pin them down at this period. 

The hat is positioned at a jaunty angle; I wonder why? Was it was deliberately positioned so the photo would reveal his hair? He had expressive eyebrows that didn't change as he aged.  

Uncle Louis appears to be sitting on his father’s arm. You could mistake him for a girl, with the longish hair, the curls, and the dress. He would have three more children who lived to adulthood and three children who died in infancy. 

By the time I was born, my grandfather was fifty-nine. I never saw him wearing a hat like this one. It may have been borrowed from the photographer. In most of the pictures I have, he was hatless. His hair was gray and wavy. 

Hector was soft-spoken and quiet, deaf after about the age of sixty with ugly beige plastic hearing aids protruding from each ear, huge and ineffective. He didn’t understand much English and only spoke a few words himself. Our communication was limited to the bare necessities but I felt his love in his looks and his interest in my little accomplishments. He showed his love rather than talked about it. 

Grab your hat and head over to Sepia Saturday for other Sepians interpretation of this week's action-packed prompt. 

Would you believe me if I said I forgot to include this Billy Collin's poem?


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart. 


  1. There is a man in the photo I shared who is holding a hat like this one. I looked at the child and decided it was a boy :)

  2. The hat jumps out but what caught my eyes are the child's shoes on those tiny little feet.

  3. A striking portrait that matches the prompt, not only the hat, but also the date. I too hthoughtbst first glance, the baby was a girl. But I too have a family photograph of my cousin's father, born 1908, and aged around 2, wearing a tartan dress.

  4. Love the poems and the picture is completely engaging! I've recently been going through old photographs of great and great-great grandparents and baby & toddler boys often wore outfits that looked like dresses. One photo in particular has me stymied. The hair is cut in a short pageboy which could be either boy or girl, and the child is wearing a gown of some sort, but also wears white stockings with black 'Mary-Janes'? Boy? Or Girl? Sure wish there was a name on the back of the picture, but no such luck. Oh well.

  5. Your grandfather's photo with Louis makes a fine loving portrait. I like the poems especially the one to hats. Recently been thinking about getting a bowler myself and starting a retro fad!

  6. A fine photo.
    You may have a point about the hat being borrowed. At least you can get a glimpse of those curls!

  7. Thanks for sharing a lovely portrait! I have photos of my dad, born 1914, in childhood dresses. I dare say it had something to do with toilet training, as it was done in those days! Yes, I noticed the baby's shoes too!

  8. It fascinates me that the child looks almost like they are standing in space, not being held. And I have to admit I wish there were fewer hats being worn these days because they are almost always baseball hats. They are worn inside and outside. When my father sees a man wearing a hat inside, especially at a restaurant, it angers him. You take your hat off when inside, not wear it backwards. I long for the days when baseball caps go out of fashion.