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A hat by any other name might be a snood

With the Red Sox down and the bases empty, Nixon hunted for the final out and I shifted the television to the dreary drivel of the millionaire show. There I learned that a toque is the white cap traditionally worn by chefs. I didn't know that. Talleyrand said that if it is not clear, it is not written in French, and we must be careful about such things, for all cooks are not chefs and not all caps are toques.

To little boys of my age, a toque was a stocking cap to be pulled down over the ears on coolish days and to be rolled up on itself and worn jauntily as a skullcap otherwise.

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If the toque were ever worn by anybody traditionally, it would be by French-Canadian coureurs de bois who drove their canoes to the Great Lakes and to Louisiana to open the West, and their dogs to the Arctic to found the Hudson's Bay Company.

I'm not sure, but if the statue of Paul Bunyan in Bangor doesn't have a toque, it should have.

Under the word "hat," Roget's Thesaurus gives an afternoon's reading on things to wear, and I didn't find toque. But the Sorbonne dictionary of the French language says it's a cap, such as worn by judges and professors.

In Webster's, it is a hat for women, knitted, with a soft crown and large enough to cover an old-time hairdo, with tortoise-shell hairpins and ornamental combs. It is suitable for a Beacon Hill lady to wear when tracing ancestry at the Boston Athenaeum.

My boyhood toques were knit plain, with brown or gray yarn, and came to a peak. The girls, who usually knit their own, sometimes used colored yarn and added a pompon or a tail.. I found nothing anywhere to make a toque the white cook's cap, and I do not know that a white cook's cap is called anything except a white cook's cap.

The only cook I ever knew who wore a toque was Bill Pelletier, who presided in the kitchen of the Chesuncook Dam Boomhouse for the Great Northern Paper Company. Bill disliked the feeling of raw dough, so he'd wear his mittens when he kneaded bread. And when he pulled on his mittens he'd just naturally wear his toque. Bill baked 50 loaves of bread every second day.

I guess probably Bill never owned a white chef's cap. The height of the cook's white cap tells his standing in the profession, and I remember Patsi Matzuchelli at the Statler had one so tall it flopped onto his shoulder. Patsi was so esteemed that he really didn't cook anymore, but limited his performance to lighting the baked Alaskas as the waiters started out to the tables.

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In Qubec, today, the toque is part of the uniforms for the snowshoe clubs. Social (and often benevolent) societies, the "racket clubs" affect colorful regalia, and a member uses his tasseled toque as an extra pocket. In it he has his ID card, bus tickets, small change, a picture of his cherie or bonne femme, and perhaps a tartine de beurre d'arachids. (In Qubec, the French word for tartine is "sandwich.") Come to think of it, what would a millionaire on ABC know about a toque?

On pleasant days, when a toque was rolled up and worn aslant on the top of the head, it could be lost and its owner would have to go hunt. My father had an older sister who was much embarrassed in this way. Down the road lived a Mrs. Russell who had an apple tree on her front lawn of a variety called Maiden's Blush. Mrs. Russell liked to make her apple butter with these apples, so she asked the neighborhood youngsters not to swipe the fruit until she had her crock "put down."

Youngsters never stole apples, because they swiped them instead. Stealing was thievery, but swiping was all right.

So one day my Aunt Mary-to-be, then a girl, was going by and Mrs. Russell came out and called to her. "Oh, Mary. Come here a minute, I have something to show you!"

So Mary ran to see, and Mrs. Russell held up a toque and said, "Is this yours?" Mary said, "Yes, it is! I hunted all over for it! Where did you find it?"

Mrs. Russell said, "It was hanging on a limb under my Maiden's Blush apple tree."

Another traditional cap I didn't find in Roget's was the sort affected by old-time papermakers and newspaper pressmen. Each man folded his own, and there was a trick to it that kept the cap from coming apart. It was impressive to see all the paper hats of the graphic arts unions in the Labor Day parade.

Still another cap worn traditionally is the snood, not too well known at a distance from Down East Maine. Snoodin' is string or yarn, cordage. It is of a size to make netting, which is used to catch fish. A seine is snoodin'. A purse seine can be drawn into a pocket to hold herring, whence its name, and Mike Brown writes his stories from Saturday Cove under the pen name of Perc Sane. I call him Snood.

So snoodin' is string, and the girls who work in the sardine and blueberry canneries are made to wear net caps so a stray hair won't get into a can. These net caps are called snoods, and the same word may be used for a hair net for any other occasion.

Before we quit the subject, let's mention the curler, who may or may not be a Scot, but must wear a Glengarry bonnet at a bonspiel, even if his name is O'Flannigan, Oblinski, or even MacTavish. And who remembers when every spring every man wore a straw boater and we had Straw Hat Day?

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society