The Mad Hatters.
There was a little machine at the Mad Hatters that wound balls of yarn.
The yarn would come in on big spools that were on cardboard cones. Some knitting machines could use the yarn on the spools, but others needed it in balls. The hand run, spinning contraption made a certain noise that I could recognize when I called my mom on the phone and it was spinning in the background. But, the noise this day, did not quit sound the same as the usual sound. She claimed that it was the ball winder, but when I got there a few hours later, I discovered it was a different sound. It was coming from a box in the corner. From the mouth of a tiny, hungry goat.
It was summer. I had short hair and was looking a lot like a boy. I would spend most of the summer knee deep in a frog pound behind my house and the other part of summer at my mom’s hat business in town. Now, I would have a pal to follow me out to the field and to spend the summer with.
The woman had driven in from Challis with a bunch of hats she had knit for the Mad Hatters -my mom’s hat business. In 1975 Chip Fisher, the owner of a ski shop called Snug in Ketchum had asked my mom if she might be interested in starting a ski hat business. He had travelled back East to New York, where he was from and he had seen some ski shops with locally made ski hats made on knitting machines. He had asked about it and found out that people were knitting in their homes to produce the hats and that it was a growing business. My mom had been working for the newspaper and had met many of the business owners in town. She was also a weaver at that time and she had read about a place in North Carolina called Penland, where some women had started a Cooperative where they could work from home and sell their weavings. The hat business sounded like it could be similar and was very appealing to my mom. She had a young child, me, by then and she knew women who had children and wanted to stay home with them, but still wanted to make some money. She also liked the idea of designing hats so, she and Chip invested some money and bought their first knitting machine. The machine did not work very well and my mom spent most of the summer trying to figure out how to get it to make a hat. Slowly though, things came together, she sold some hats at Snug, she rented a place behind the Toy Store on Sun Valley road and hired some women to sew. And, little by little she got into the Ski Hat industry.
Being in the Ski Hat industry later meant traveling to Las Vegas every year to be a part of the Ski show. This helped her to sell her hats all across the United States. Most of the orders came from there. This meant designing new hats each year, making a ski hat catalog, estimating materials and costs and then asking for a loan. Working within that loan to buy materials, pay taxes, pay employees and then getting the orders to the stores across the country by November, so that they would be ready for them to sell that season. And, then keeping her employees busy the rest of the year. The ski shops usually did not pay their bills until January 15. When it was a bad snow year, the ski shops would pay for their skis, boots and other things first and then pay the little guy (the hat maker) last or some times not at all. This was difficult and extremely stressful. My mom still has dreams about running out of black yarn and not getting hats to people on time.
But, she did enjoy her employees a lot and she did enjoy helping mothers and women to stay at home and work. She once went to the Four Corners area to bring employment to some very low income areas. She also travelled to Weippe, Idaho to bring work to women who were married to loggers and had very few opportunities in their small town. She had given the woman from Challis, who had brought the goat, a steady income. She had employed many women in the area.
The hat business had moved several times to different parts of Ketchum. At that time it was in the industrial area of Ketchum. My mom had her own office on the corner of the building, which was attached to the rest of the factory. The office had windows, so when the woman pulled up to deliver the hats, my mom noticed that she had a bunch of baby goats in the back of her truck. An animal lover herself, my mom went out to look at them and the next thing I knew we had a goat. I wasn’t there for this exchange, but I can imagine this is how it went. The woman had given my mom a glass coke bottle and a nipple and some goats milk so we could feed it and waved good bye until her next delivery of hats.
I brought the goat home and because I was the one to feed him from a bottle, he followed me everywhere. We lived in a place where he would not need to be pinned up, so he had complete freedom as did I. I remember walking out in the field, him following me just like a dog might. When the rare car would go by I would notice them looking over at me. They would stare at me, wondering what it was that was following me.
Arrow, which is what I named him because of his markings, was an agile pet. He could follow me across logs that crossed the river, he could climb mountains, jump onto rocks. He could go anywhere. He could jump up on things too, much higher than I could. These things ended up including the kitchen table where we one day found him eating chips out of a bowl. He also had a thing for jumping on people’s cars. I don't remember him jumping up on our cars just visitors. One day when Chip Fisher stopped by our house on his way to a company Barbecue. He was driving his Mercedes-Benz, which at the time was the nicest car I knew of in all of Ketchum.
I cringed to think he had driven it out on our dusty dirt road. He came inside to say hello and when we went back outside, our goat, Arrow was standing on the front of his car. Hooves a scratching.
That same summer, my Uncle Ron and his wife Marie-Agnes and their son Alexandre came to visit from France. My dad had just had this building moved out to our house that was going to be demolished in Ketchum. John Daley, had helped my dad to get the small building onto a moving truck and they had driven it out and placed it in our front yard, so that my dad could use it as his workshop. His sawdusty workshop for building furniture, before that, was in our house in the living room. He had kept it warm with the fireplace and kept that room from freezing for several years. Before he moved out to the new building though, my Aunt and Uncle slept there on a bed that we rented from Lutz rentals. My little French cousin Alexandre slept in my room in a crib. He was very sweet, waking up before me each morning, but not saying anything, just staring at me from his crib. I can still picture his big blue eyes and his head laying softly to the side as he watched me sleep and waited for me to wake up.
We had a lot of fun that summer with them because we took them out to dinner and to Red Fish Lake. It was not very common for us to have visitors, but when we did we always had a lot of fun.
I had that little goat all summer long and into the fall and then, the woman took him back to her farm because we were going to get too much snow to keep him there all winter. After that, every time I saw a goat and still to this day, I always ooo and aaa. Some times I laugh because I now have five goats and I still exclaim when I see goats in other places… “Oh, look goats!”
The Mad Hatters was like a second home to me growing up. Our house was 7 miles from town, so I was either there all day in the summer or at home. The people who worked at the Mad Hatters were wonderful. They were all very kind and funny and all very different. Because we had no relatives in town, they became my aunts and grandmothers that I grew up with.
When I was 10 years old, I worked at an office.
I was so busy, that sometimes I wouldn’t talk to anyone all day, so I could get everything done. It felt good to have a job in town. It felt good to get all cleaned up and put on my fancy grey sweat pants with the heart on the back pocket and my black, pat and leather shoes with the bows. I’d head into town early, catching a ride with my mom. We drive the seven mile dirt road, sometimes talking, sometimes in silence, both thinking about all we had to get done that day. I had a lot of orders to take care of. And, I had a lot to file and organize.
A few days before, I’d been in a dumpster looking around to see if anything good had been thrown out. That was back in the day when nobody cared that you were in a dumpster and when you might be lucky enough to find a stray kitten in there and take it home. I looked around and noticed a box. The top was taped shut, so I knew it had to be something good. I opened it up and to my wonder it was a box full of someones old checks. Yes, and my mind began to reel. I thought about all I could do with this box of checks. I’d have to file these, organize them, maybe even use a few to pay the bills. I taped the box shut and lugged it out of the dumpster and headed to my office. The checks had all been written neatly by someone by the name of Pam Morris and must have been paid, returned to her bank and then returned to her. She’d gone through them, organized them and then boxed them all up just for me. It was my job now to look them over and see just who they’d been written to and dream up why. I’d use them to pay my bills for my office. I’d have to figure out where to keep them in my desk.
This would kept me busy for many hours that day and the next. I think it kept me busy for a whole summer. Sometimes though, I would have to take a break from my desk job and put on my roller skates and skate back and forth on the cement floor in the hat factory. It was smooth and I could get going pretty fast if I wanted to. Sometimes I’d walk up the wood stairs to the second floor where people were knitting hats on machines. I would go and check on them to see how they were doing.
If I went clear to the back, I would see Annie, the woman from Norway, who I was helping to teach English and who was practically my grandmother. If my mom had to stay late and Annie was leaving early, then I could go with her, in her fast, red car. We would woosh over to her house, where she would make me something good to eat and I could watch T.V.. She was nice and always gave me chocolate on Easter, the only chocolate I got. My mom always gave me carob, which I grew to hate. Annie always had a birthday party for me and her other friend Willy who had the same birthday as me and was about 70 years older than me, but only in the way she looked. Not, in the way she acted. She lived in a trailer on the corner of Main and 6th that had a lot of the color pink inside. I didn’t know much about her, but now I wish I could ask her a thousand questions. We were all good friends and laughed a lot when we were all together.
Annie lived with a man named Chuck who was just as nice as Annie. He didn’t work because he’d been in a war and he was really tired from that and maybe hurt. Sometimes he have a drink in the middle of the afternoon, so he wouldn’t have to think about the war. He had lots of T.V.s in his house. Some were for watching and some were for fixing. If you needed a T.V. fixed he could do it just as soon as he finished with the ones he already had there. I liked seeing all those T.V.s cause where we lived, we didn’t have one. We couldn’t get any reception where we lived. It was too far away for a T.V. There was really no reason to have one. I got my fair share of TV watching though, when I went to their house. I’d watch the Brady Bunch and Little House on the Prairie and if I were there late enough I could watch the Dukes of Hazard or Knight Rider. I didn’t have to change the channel, much. When I did I skipped right over the news because it could be scary to see all that horrible stuff going on right near our town and I didn’t want to have to worry about it. Those images tended to stick in my mind and arise when I lay in bed in my dark room.
After Annie’s knitting machine, there was Deloris. Deloris lived in Hailey, which was 11 miles too far away to ever go visit her. It was only on one or two occasions in my whole life that we ever went to her house. Once was to drop off something like yarn or hats. I remember she lived on a side street, pretty close to the main street in Hailey on the second floor of an old building. We walked up some dark stairs and down a dark hallway to her apartment. This was the first apartment I’d ever seen. I think it was pretty dark in there too and full of stuff. I remember going to another room, that was full of dolls, hundreds of dolls. She collected them. It was dark and pretty spooky with all those old dolls in boxes that just wanted to come out and be played with. They were for shows though and money and had to be protected and kept nice and safe for the few days when they got to come out and be shown. Deloris was as nice as can be.
She taught me how to drink instant Nestle Ice Tea with ice and sugar, and a Tylenol to get rid of a headache fast. She showed me how to put sugar on a peach and put it in the microwave when it wasn’t ripe and it would sweeten right up. She was also the only person I know who salted her cantaloupe. She called me Sport and told good stories about her crazy family in Jerome. From a young age, I knew that writing a book about her life, would be writing a good book. She never seemed to have a dull moment even if she wanted to. She got married when she was young to a much older man. I don’t think her family was too happy about it, because she went to jail over it and had to escape. But she may have been the only one that made it out of that family and Jerome alive. Her husband was an electrician and he drove a pink truck because the company he worked for was called Pink’s Electric. His name was Pete, but we didn’t see him very often, because he was always working on a big house on the Fairviews in Sun Valley. They were building a big solar house there, (not very common in the 80s) so he’d be busy with that for a long time. He was a quiet man, with a kind smile and that was just about all I needed to know about him. The stories Deloris told weren’t about him, they were about her family and someone name Misty. Every once in a while Misty would come to the hat factory and spend the day there. She was younger than me, so I’d take care of her and make sure she was ok at least for the time she was at the hat factory with us. I couldn’t take care of her once she’d left and gone back to that crazy family in Jerome though.
If I kept going down the line of knitters, I come to Lynard. I think that may have been her nick name, but she was nice too and could put the back of her hand on my forehead and tell right away if I had a fever. She had two kids of her own at home who she’d have to do this to each morning before she left for the long drive to work. She needed to make sure they would be ok, while she left them alone. Her husband didn’t stay home with them because he worked for the Fish and Game and even though my dad was strongly against anything that had to do with money and the forest service, he talked my mom into asking Lynard if her husband could drive by our house on Saturday and dump a whole truck load of fish from the hatchery into our pond. Well, he did this, just as fast as he could so no one would see and our pond was suddenly turned into the Warm Springs Restaurant’s pond, ‘cause we could throw dog food to these fish and they would jump out of the water to get it. They were big and fun to watch and that made my dad happy especially when we had visitors.
Then, it was back downstairs in my roller skates, unless of course I’d taken them off already, to listen to a story . I would go to check on Lee. Lee worked the pom pom machine, which was a big wind mill that turned on a drill and wound all different colors of acrylic yarn around it until there was just enough. She would then stop it and put little zip ties on there just so. Next, she’d cut the colored yarn, in just the right place and then pull off the whole rope of it, so she could cut each pom pom out and trim them just so. I knew the most about what she did because it was big and fun to watch. Lee lived almost in Hailey, a little before, and she had a neat yard with a fence around it. When you went to her door the first thing you’d hear, maybe even before you knocked were a few small barking dogs. She had fancy dogs that probably wouldn’t survive where we lived due to the wild animals and large amounts of snow. You'd hear Lee calling and coming. She was always busy doing something when we got there, but I wasn’t sure what. It could have been gardening or painting or something. Her husband had a big work shop where he made things out of wood right next to their house, so usually she be in between her house and there. And, when we walked back outside I could peer across and see a garage with several old cars, what Glen, her husband, worked on on the weekends when he wasn’t relaxing and smoking his pipe. He had a long, grey beard that went well with the pipe and he too was quiet and nice with a kind smile.
If I roller skated back down the cement, I’d come to a door to the office where my mom was. Her desk was on the opposite wall from mine and there was a phone and a rolodex on it. She was usually on the phone or out seeing if the UPS man had come yet. During school, she had time to pick me up and take me to get a snack, but most the time we just worked, back to back in that office until it was time to go home.
I know she had some fun there though. One time she told me that she and Barbara, who did all the shipping, took the UPS truck while the driver was inside collecting boxes of hats. They drove it around the corner and left it there, so when the driver went outside he didn’t see his truck. He looked worried for a minute and wasn’t sure where to put all the outgoing boxes of hats, while he looked for his truck. The smile on my mom’s face made him realize his truck was not far away. When we’d go home in the evening, we usually talk, my mom and I. In the morning, we were too worried about all we had to get done, but by the afternoon, we knew we’d done all we could, so we could talk. If it were summer time, we’d usually go out in the garden and water or push the lawn mower around a bit. We eat something easy for dinner and I’d usually end up knee deep in the pond. Sometimes, my dad would go for a walk with me out in the field, we looked for frogs or he’d bring his fishing pool and catch a few fish to bring home in a bucket. We’d let them go, sometimes by hand, so I could feel their cool skin. Then, it’d be time for bed and if there wasn’t a radio show to listen to there was usually a good story on a tape that I could put on to help me to fall asleep. My mom and dad would go to bed early, so they could read all the books by their bed, in their loft.
If I didn’t wake up early enough to go to work with my mom and my dad wasn’t heading to town that day, then I’d have to spend my day outside. I could also go across the street and head up the mountain to check out the old mine that was up there. The climb was straight up and took a lot of energy, so I did not do this everyday. There was also the island in the river. It was close and easy to get to and if I stood in just the right place, it felt like I was on a boat headed up river. The island needed cleaning, rearranging and often that is what I would do there. Or, there was the upper river bank. It was a long walk and if I went there, I’d be gone all day. If I was up for it, I would follow the river to the pond and then keep following the river until it came to a bend and then I was almost there. It was fun to see how it had changed and what was new there. There were always lots of treasures that the river had brought. There was always lots to do, hours and hours of work, because of the changes the river had made. When I felt like it was near five o’clock I’d head home, hungry and thirsty and looking forward to seeing my mom. The dogs would go to the end of the driveway, when they weren’t with me and wait for my mom to arrive. They could hear the car from miles away. The dogs, were my company and they were our welcome home. I didn’t really know if I wanted to work in an office my whole life. It seemed pretty stressful for my mom. She never talked much about it, but I knew sometimes by the ways she sighed that it was.