Though he never specifically told me so, I think it’s safe to assume that, as with most of my dad’s poems and stories, the idea for this one originated in one of his dreams.
It really wasn’t that large. At least Thelma didn’t think so. The most she’d ever agree to (and very seldom at that) was that it was “comfortably roomy”, and she dismissed outright any suggestion that she, plus three of her friends, could find protection from the hot desert sun under the floppy purple rim of the hat.
In fact, it was her contention that her hat was actually becoming tighter the more she wore it.
This belief was flatly rejected. Listeners snickered at the idea. Some even laughed outright.
“Things, including hats, loosen or stretch when you wear them,” chorused all but one of Thelma’s friends, as if it were a universal truth – which maybe it is.
Willard didn’t join the others in their hoots of derision. Or even add his laughter to their gales of mirth.
For one thing, he knew Thelma was correct. The hat was getting tighter, or, to be more precise, smaller.
There was another reason for Willard’s refusal to join in the community scorn which greeted Thelma’s daily announcements of her ever-shrinking hat. He was too busy building.
He was quite rightfully proud of his construction activities. Single-handedly (apart from the fumble-fingered but energetic efforts of his older children), Willard had built a 50-room mansion for his wife and himself, their 43 children, and the children’s four grandparents.
It was truly a magnificent piece of architecture. Turrets, all capped with weather-vanes, appeared in the most outlandish places. Gargoyles leered out from every gutter. There was a big brass doorway, with western-style saloon gates, which could only be entered by way of a long verandah that snaked its way around the house. Windows of every shape and size were to be found on the walls, halls, and even the roof. Some windows had shutters, others were protected by various forms of canopy, all bearing the most fantastic names or else promoting the benefits of particular foods or medicines.
The structure, it is true, was unpainted. This is not to imply that the house lacked colour. The assortment of materials employed in the construction of the house, everything from adobe to compressed pulp-board made from giant zucchini plants, and the many objects of ornamentation – the weather-vanes, gargoyles, awnings, shutters, window flowerbeds, and a giant “W” emblazoned in multi-hued thumb-tacks next to the brass door – provided all who viewed Willard’s house with a rainbow of imagery.
The weather-vanes, stamped from sheets of aluminum, were a special delight to Willard. One depicted Mighty Mouse in full flight, red cape streaming behind him. Another showed Mickey Mouse, harmonica to mouth, and a tail-wagging Pluto trailing behind. Three blind mice tapped. A mouse ran up a clock. Everywhere one looked, there were famous mice.
Privately, Willard thought of this forest of weather-vanes as his tribute to mouse-heaven.
Yes, Willard was proud of his new home. Proud of its two master bedrooms, four large bathrooms, and seven different playrooms. He was pleased with the way the three boys’ dormitories had turned out, although he wished they wouldn’t tack so many posters to the walls, and really thought the two girls’ dormitories were perfectly adorable.
Willard also knew that his good wife appreciated much about the house, beginning with the huge kitchen and eight adjoining pantry rooms. She also seemed to spend a considerable portion of her day in the sewing room – as did Willard because he was exceptionally talented at needlepoint – and somehow found time to while away a quiet hour or two a week in the east tower loom-room.
The new mansion was indeed almost perfect. With its libraries, sauna room, television lounge, indoor pool, exercise gym, basement science laboratory, dining halls, and storage rooms for clothes and toys, there wasn’t a single activity requiring its own room that had been overlooked.
Or so Willard thought.
Then he remembered his long-held desire for a music room. And he immediately sat down at his drafting table to translate his dream into reality.
His ideal music room would have to be a large, airy hall with light from the south spilling through massive, floor-to-ceiling patio doors which would open out onto a large balcony overlooking a garden. There would be a stone bench and table – complete with umbrella to deflect the hot afternoon sun – and a low stone wall, with ample width to place potted plants, would completely surround the balcony.
The floor of his dream room would be of hardwood, polished to such a lustre that it would reflect back not only light, but the image of all who would stand in the room. At night the patio doors would be open to the evening breeze and the sparkle from the gently-swaying silver chandelier would dance across the floor, yet still leave comforting pools of shadows among the benches, umbrella trees, and spider plants hugging the walls.
Willard paused for not more than a second when deciding on a color for his new room. Walls and ceiling would be egg-shell white. Mouldings and window-trim, however, would match the hardwood floor, and no bay window would be complete without a comfortably wide hardwood seat.
As Willard sketched in the final details, he turned his mind to the piano he knew he must have for the room. It was, if his memory served him right, egg-shell white. A grand piano, and he’d order it tonight!
Then Willard started building.
The next day Thelma complained that her hat was now decidedly uncomfortable.
“It’s really, really tight,” she muttered, as she twisted and turned the hat, trying desperately to make it fit.
Of course, as usual, none of her friends took her latest complaint seriously. Except Willard, who kept his thoughts to himself, although greatly troubled.
“Furthermore,” announced Thelma in a dark and ominous voice, “this hat is becoming downright heavy. Uncommonly heavy!”
This latest statement, as might be guessed, brought forth new peals of laughter from all within hearing. Nor did it cease when Thelma said she’d have to throw her new hat into the nearest roadside garbage can if it soon didn’t become more comfortable.
“You bet I will!” promised Thelma, as she angrily raced off across the desert bed and disappeared down the side of wide wash, her final words hanging in the still heat of the morning. “You just watch me!”
That night, following a hastily-called family council, Willard regretfully agreed to carry out the family decision.
And, just recently, this news item appeared in a number of newspapers across North America:
Desert Mystery Baffles Law
Tombstone, Ariz. AP – Highway surveyors and local law enforcement officials expressed “complete bafflement” over the discovery Tuesday morning of a brand new, egg-shell white grand piano perched precariously atop a large ledge of rock overlooking a small gully. The site of the find was approximately 20 miles south of Tombstone and is in an area considered virtually inaccessible to vehicles other than jeeps or all-terrain conveyances.
Sandra Dyer, 25, a surveyor from Santa Fe, New Mexico, discovered the grand piano while shooting grade elevations for the Arizona stretch of the proposed Los Angeles to Dallas tramway.
In Dyer’s opinion, the piano was in immaculate condition. “It didn’t even look as if anyone had ever played it. There was just the faintest trace of dust on the keys, so I doubt it had been there too long.”
Tombstone Sheriff Hugh O’Brien stated his department was unable at this time to ascertain ownership of the piano. He confirmed that neither he nor his force could find any tracks or other evidence to indicate how the piano arrived at its destination.
He also admitted he was “at a loss” in establishing a motive for someone abandoning the $20,000 instrument.
County officials have already suggested that if no owner can be found, the piano, which is slated to be moved by helicopter late this afternoon, will be donated to Tombstone’s new Theatre of the Arts.
Willard wasn’t questioned by any media person. Should he have been, it is a good bet he would have sadly shown his plan for his dream music room, and then explained how he’d converted the room – after only one night of splendour – into a broom closet at the request of his family.
He’d probably conclude the interview with an announcement that he couldn’t swim, and that if he had simply drained the pool – as he had suggested at the family council – Thelma would probably only have thought she’d become drenched as the result of a sudden summer storm.
Yesterday, Thelma misplaced the hat.