Candace Cooksey Fulton

My daddy was a Texas good guy. He wore a hat, not to prove it, I don’t think, but people did notice.

Years ago, when my son was doing a report for school, he asked Dad about his hats, and Dad had told him he didn’t start off wearing hats for work.

When he started in law enforcement in 1948, Texas highway patrolmen wore the hard-billed caps, Dad had explained, but in 1958 the state changed the uniforms and troopers started wearing the western-style hats.

I remember about that time, we lived in Waco, and Dad was safety education officer for the Department of Public Safety. He was coming home from work one day, and I, a 6-year-old, was diligently trying to capture a fledgling blue jay that had been pushed from its nest to learn to fly.

My attempt had infuriated the mother and father jays, and so, coming from the garage, Dad saw me crouched on the sidewalk getting dive-bombed by the senior jays. In a flash he came to my rescue, swooped me up and fought off the jays by waving his hat until we made it safely to the porch.

For the rest of his life, he remembered and knew — as did I — to respect blue jays. But I also will remember for the rest of my life, that a brave father and a good hat will get you through a downright scary predicament.

After we moved to Sanderson in 1960, and Dad became sheriff at Terrell County, he had the sheriff’s department adopt uniforms which were typical western styling, complemented with a cowboy hat.

The utility of his hat was required often. I remember him taking it off and holding it as a shade over my baby brother, sleeping in a stroller while we stood in the barbecue line on the Fourth of July.

I remember how he would remove his hat as soon as we crossed the threshold going inside, anywhere, how he’d hold it across his chest at football games, when the prayer was being said and the national anthem was being sung. I remember more than once, it getting passed around at church suppers or family reunions to help somebody or family who had fallen on hard times.

“He (Bill Cooksey) looked like … a Texas policeman should look: tall, lanky and he wore his wide-brimmed hat just right. They didn’t even mind he wore glasses,” an Associated Press story reported in newspapers Nov. 6, 1965, two days after Dad had been critically wounded by a Mexican national he was attempting to arrest for being on this side of the border illegally.

My own boys loved their granddad, and not having been born in Texas, bragged to their Yankee and Eastern friends their granddad was a real Texas cowboy. Dad usually kept worn-out hats, and when we’d visit, the boys didn’t want new toys, they just wanted to get to wear his old hats stored in his closet.

A poem I wrote for the scrapbook we compiled for Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary included this verse: “And Granddad, these babies / with their heads in your hats … / Like 3 o’clock coffees / and afternoon chats … / They like soft cotton T-shirts / and Wranglers (but sorry, no starch) / and they plan to stay busy / ’til the middle of March.

When Dad died in 2000, my sister remembered to get his newest and best Sunday hat and took it to the funeral directors so he could be “laid out with it.” And I remember Mom saying, “The hat’s right. He’d be proud.”

We were proud to have known him — a good guy, with a white hat.

Candace Cooksey Fulton’s column is in the Brownwood Bulletin on Sundays. This column originally was published in July 2007. She may be reached at candace.fulton@brownwoodbulletin.com.