I have a few baseball-style caps that I’ve collected over the years. I have a couple of caps of my New York Yankees, a few golf caps, some Ed-Co baseball caps from my years as head coach and a couple caps from bands I enjoy. I have more caps than I can wear.
Covering the 100th-anniversary celebration of Backbone State Park a couple of weeks ago, I grabbed a 2020 Iowa State Parks Centennial cap that was handed out at the event. And when I did, I thought of my dad, Dick Putz.
Dad collected caps. Lots of caps. He had caps of baseball teams, seed corn brands and just about anything else you could think of. If something could be put on a cap, he probably had it.
He even had two baseball-style caps from the Iowa State Patrol, personally delivered by a state patrolman after dark one night.
When Dad died in 2005, he had amassed over 800 caps in his collection.
While Dad would have wanted the state park cap to add to his collection, for me it was more about the memories of Backbone State Park the cap brought back.
Growing up, Backbone State Park was Ground Zero for family gatherings. Dad’s parents lived outside of Edgewood, while mom’s folks lived near Winthrop. Especially for mom’s brothers and sister, the park was no more than an hour drive for anyone.
The park offered our families a chance to get together. Sometimes there were other relatives from both sides of our families, making it, if not a full-fledged family reunion, a pretty good attempt at one.
Food was prepared and brought in coolers. Burgers and hot dogs were cooked on grills found in the park.
While the food was cooking, the men stood around the grills and the women put cloths over the picnic tables that had been lined up lengthwise. Often the cousins would explore the stream running nearby or start a game of Whiffle ball.
We got to eat our burgers and hot dogs on buns, instead of on bread like we did when we were home. That was a big deal, sort of our version of eating off fancy china.
After the picnic, there would be more exploring, more Whiffle ball and plenty of time to sit in lawn chairs and just visit with each other.
Another thing that happened without fail, is that the men would put water in an old coffee can and save the coals they had used to grill the meat. Those coals were doused in water taken from the stream, grabbed with a pliers and put back in the briquet bag when they were cool enough. They could be used again the next time someone had a cookout.
Backbone State Park offered my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, all of whom were hard-working people, a chance to come together, share some food, watch their children and grandchildren play and relax without spending an arm and a leg.
It took a centennial park cap for those memories to come back to me. And while we reporter types try not to take stuff offered at events, I had to have the cap. To be honest, I think the cap may have been calling me to come get it.
My wife and I took our kids to Backbone State Park when they were growing up. Now we look forward to taking our granddaughters. When we do, there’s a stream to explore, burgers and hot dogs to grill and Whiffle ball to play.
And while I won’t be cooling off coals to reuse, I will be wearing my state park cap.
I’m pretty sure Dad would approve.