Stories. Every family has them.
My family’s story began with my parents both on skis. Legend has it they were at the top-turn-of-the-nose-dive in Stowe, Vermont when they met, the year was 1950.
Once home, my mother, along with the yarn, cast her spell of love onto the needles she used to knit a long stocking hat for my dad — The Magic Hat — complete with tassel and bell.
Later, when he opened his mysterious package from E. L. Fairchild of Pelham, NY, he found a note:
CAUTION This is a magic hat, only wash in melted snow.
I am assuming, dear reader, that you have already figured out that my mother’s mystical powers worked. Less than two months later, they were engaged to be married. Theirs was a marriage that would span over 50 years.
But I am getting ahead of myself…
Monday evening, February 20, 1950
How nice can people be! Talk about surprises! You certainly left this poor boy just a bit dazed. I am truly pleased (and touched, to be perfectly frank). To make something as nice as that represents time and work, but I assure you the hat will get to the land of snow and be christened with due ceremony before very long.
But I don’t understand. Things like this don’t happen very often. This all deserves explanation and maybe we could expedite matters by finding out when and where you expect to be skiing in New England next. Unfortunately M.I.T. is not the easiest of places to get away from, but certainly you’ll be skiing the Ravine before too long and even M.I.T. can not keep people away from there.
In the meantime maybe you should inform me of your other talents, as if skiing, cooking and knitting were not sufficient for any pretty gal to have. One would have to either be blind or a complete fool (and my pride tells me I can see–with the aid of adequate spectacles!) not to wonder about and be interested in anyone, let alone an attractive female, that bothers to make an enviable ski hat complete with tassel and bell for him. So–tell me more of you and your life at 622 Pelhamdale Ave.
For now it is suffice to say thank you very much. It is a terrific hat and pretty darn nice of you to build it.
Skoll, gluewein, and a ski heil!!
P.S. Your instructions for washing will be heeded.
And I imagine her, my mother, tearing open the envelope from Steb when it arrived.
After all, she had mailed a hat with a CAUTION to a veritable stranger. A stranger she had, in fact, intentionally collided with while skiing — because of by simple prophecy — she knew he was the one.
She got enough goods on him that her mother would later spy his ski-race results in the newspaper, circle them and then ask her daughter if this, Robert Stebbins of M.I.T., might be the Steb her daughter had swooned over when she returned home from the slopes.
And that is how she came to mail the magic hat to one Robert Stebbins. And I can picture her, package in hand, hope in her heart, sidling up to the post-masters counter and leaving it all to fate.
Now, his first letter–the first of what one day would be many–opened on her desk. She penned her response.
March 1, 1950
Hey yourself–I’m awfully glad you like the hat! It was not very difficult to make, really, –except for casting the bell.
As for an explanation. If, as you say, things like that don’t happen very often, it’s because people don’t very often meet people who like magic hats.
Besides, you introduced me to “Ho-la-hi, Ho-la-ho.” I know the words now and can play it on the piano. It is such a free little tune. Sounds as if it escaped from a music box.
Now tell me–how did you happen to come from Seattle to M.I.T. and what kind of engineer do you want to be, and do you like New England?
I was in Seattle just once — for a few days when I was nineteen, and very unhappy at the time. But I liked it.
Haven’t skied any farther away from home than Catamount lately. Went with some kids last Sunday and the snow was wonderful! –good packed powder with just a few ice crystals on top, like sugar on a cookie. It was fast and you could feel your skis bite in. When the tow stopped we hated to go home, so climbed once and came down slowly to make it last.
But vacation is coming soon. According to Joe Dodge, there will be plenty of snow in the Ravine this spring. I’m planning to go up there for a week from March 25 to April 2.
That’s a little earlier than usual, but they are scheduling the Inferno Race for April 1 and 2 weekend, and if they hold to it this year it would be nice to see it. Staying up the following week might be better, but would mean being away on Easter. This year mother would be alone so I’d kind of like to be home.
Do you have a spring vacation anywhere near that time? Maybe I should wish on my magic hat–
P.S. If you lose the bell on your hat, I still have the mold.
Then, telephone calls were horribly expensive. It was 1950–no cell phones, no computers–they had letters that took days to arrive and visits that were few and far between. Yet, fall in love, they did.
If he were alive today, my father would have turned 90, an age I always believed he’d see.
Now, re-reading his youthful thank you note for the gift of his magic hat, I hear his enthusiasm and curiosity ring through. And it is there between the lines that I imagine him, pen in hand, thinking–lucky, lucky me.
And though they have both been gone for some time now, I can still hear my dad today–as if in a whisper–thanking my mom for “building him the hat.”
Happy Birthday, Dad–today it is me who thanks you for believing in magic and wearing that long stocking cap–you were an incredible father. What a gift, I love you, Elin
Kim Tackett says
Oh my gosh, what an amazing gift…those letters, the magic, the hat, the parents…all of it. Thanks for sharing your gifts (including your writing) with us!
Thank you Kim for your nice comment. Yes the letters are an incredible gift, really it’s like meeting my parents when they were young. There are countless beautiful treasures that spread across the years.
Cathy Chester says
This is an incredible post. How you wrote so lovingly that you grabbed my heart. I am crying as I type this.
I love that you have the letters between them. And the hat. The emotions pour right through.
You were certainly born because of a great love.
Thanks Cathy, I feel as if I should send you Kleenex this week. 🙂 Yes, there was definitely an abundance of love in our family, something I am grateful for always.
Karen D. Austin says
That’s very sweet! Thank you for sharing this Christmas memory. And Happy Birthday to your dad–who did a great job creating moments to live in your memory.
Carol Cassara says
A sweet and lovely story from a sweet and lovely time. It really is charming and so i s the hat!
It is a window into a different era, yes? I love the way they express themselves in their letters. Thanks Carol.
Okay… I am crying right now. Seriously. I love this story. That it’s true makes it all the more wonderful. Your parents sound exceptional. No wonder you are, too. 🙂
Thanks Jackie, you are so sweet to say that, they were exceptional, we were lucky.
Ruth Curran says
I love, love, love these stories! Oh that magic hat…! So wonderful that you can hear his voice as you read – how amazing!
Yes -oh that magic hat- is exactly right! Thank you Ruth. 🙂
Doreen McGettigan says
What beautiful letters, what a gift!
I have a box of letters betwee my grandparents. I cherish them.
How wonderful that you have some letters from your Grandparents Doreen, they are a treasure, their ability to transport the reader to a different era is remarkable.
Shelley Zurek says
How wonderful and precious these first letters of courtship must be to you. I wish I had such a treasure.
Thank you Shelley, yes, they truly are a treasure.
Lois Alter Mark says
Elin, what an amazing gift that you have these letters documenting your parents’ love story which, by the way, is the stuff of movies. I totally feel like I’m transported back in time, and it’s fascinating to get slices of history along with these deeply personal and beautiful sentiments. I can’t wait to read more.
What a wonderful story of the magic hat! I loved it. I find their story to be sort of magical. What a great history to have in them too.
Thanks Wendy, I am glad you enjoyed it.
How fun this was! Such a treasure you have all, and shared there story with us. They were meant to be.
Thanks Jamie, I am glad they were meant to be, otherwise my siblings and I wouldn’t be here. haha. 🙂 Appreciate your comment.
Patty Chang Anker says
So romantic, and brave! Reminds us all to reach out and extend ourselves – a new friend could reach right back!
What a wonderful thing to observe, Patty. Thank you, I agree.
Lisa Froman says
So sweet, so well-crafted. Loved it. And yes, it made me tear up too.
Thank you Lisa, I think maybe we all get a bit misty when it comes to early love.
Lisa @ Grandma's Briefs says
Such a magical tale, worthy of an Alice Hoffman novel. Oh, the treasures you have in the letters between your parents, the relationship they seem to have had, the magic and love instilled in and passed down to their daughter. This is a fabulously touching birthday post for your father.
Thank you Lisa. I have been working on (slaving over haha) transcribing all of their letters so each of my siblings, and all the grandkids, will have a copy, I have enjoyed bringing a couple of these snippets to life. And thanks for recognizing that it was in fact a dedication to my dad. xo
Carpool Goddess says
Happy to know I’m not the only one who got weepy after reading this beautiful love story. Those letters are a gift. Thank you for sharing!
Hm. Beginning to wonder if I should have a “kleenex” alert. 😉 Thanks Linda, I am glad you enjoyed it.
Sharon Greenthal says
This is such a wonderful story – worthy of an entire book! It’s such a gift to be able to peek into our parents’ lives before we were born, isn’t it?
Thank you Sharon. Yes–it is a gift indeed! It makes me wish I could go meet them then, they had so much fun!
What a lovely story! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. A keeper for sure. What a gift. <3 Happy holidays!
Thanks for stopping by and reading it Kelly, Happy holidays to you too.
Edee Lemonier says
Wow, what an incredible thing to be able to hold in your hands the words, the moments your parents fell in love. This had me in tears this morning. So beautiful!
Thank you Edee, I really appreciate your comment.
Mithra Ballesteros says
What a treat! I hope you consider putting those letters and that hat into a shadowbox. They should be the centerpiece at your Thanksgiving! Honestly, so wonderful to read. We are having a fun discussion over on Facebook about your parents’ different writing styles. I’m guessing your mom was a writer, like you! And your dad was a gentleman, through and through!
I’m afraid there are far too many letters to put in a shadow box, although that is a lovely idea, they span several years. As for my mother, indeed, she was a writer, and a beautiful one at that. Dad had one of those infectious personalities, he got excited about so much, that’s what I miss, all that enthusiasm…even for the littlest things.
Roz Warren says
Wow. What a great story. You are blessed. 🙂
Thanks Roz. 🙂
I can imagine the respectful silence and intent listening when RHS learned that ELF was in Seattle for reasons other than skiing, knitting, and cooking, Elin. Reading their correspondence and the context that your writing renders moved me to tears. Thank you for posting this beautiful blog.
It’s hard to fathom their experiences, each of them on the heels of WWII. There is something to be said for the resilience present in each of them–their youth, despite it all, shines through in their correspondence. So happy to have your lovely comment, thank you for sharing, Rod.
Mary Lanzavecchia says
Such a beautiful story and tribute, Elin. I felt both the love that blossomed between your parents and a daughter and her dad.
Thank you Mary.
Rena McDaniel says
What an amazingly beautiful story! Having it to pass down to the next generation is one of the greatest gifts of life!
Thank you Rena. I agree, it is a gift.
Katy Curnyn says
how beautiful to share their memory – I feel like I know them, like them and take great joy in their relationship that started so sweetly and lasted so long
Katy, What a lovely surprise to find your comment here. Thank you! I love what you said, I feel the same way. Reading all of their letters (there are loads of them) has allowed me to see them as the people they were all those years ago, makes me wish I could go meet them. Thanks for reading and commenting. xo
Carina Stebbins says
Elin, thank you for sharing this! I must admit it brought a tear to my eye. What a lovely story.
How sweet of you to comment, Carina. One day you will have a copy of all of their letters…it’s an arduous process deciphering Moma’s handwriting! xo