In the short story, “Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry,” Elizabeth McCracken introduces a larger-than-life character, Aunt Helen Beck, a woman in her eighties who has traveled the country for most of her life, showing up at the homes of distant relatives who have only vaguely heard of her, if they have at all. She arrives at an island in Seattle’s Puget Sound to stay with a great nephew and his wife. In the course of her visit, they learn to put up with the trials of having their lives invaded by an outspoken aged relative. At the same time, their suspicions grow that she is actually not who she says she is. Each character is rendered imaginatively as a familiar type, but also as a unique individual. McCracken tells the story with an unerring eye for details and a subtle sense of humor that recognizes the underlying strangeness of ordinary modern life.

“Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry” was published in McCracken’s 1993 short story collection of the same name. This was her first story collection, published when the author was just a few years out of college, and it helped to establish McCracken as one of the most gifted young writers of her generation.


“Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry” starts by introducing Aunt Helen Beck, a legendary older woman who stays in the houses of relatives so frequently that the children in houses where she stayed lived to tell stories about her to their own children, some of whom eventually meet her themselves when she comes to stay. Among her eccentricities is her dictation of letters for the children to write to people she has known who are dead; another is that she carries a small change purse with two pennies in it, though she will not show the pennies to anyone.

Aunt Helen Beck arrives at Orcas Island in Puget Sound to stay with Ford and his wife, Chris, after having stayed with Ford’s sister Abbie a few years previously. When they meet her at the ferry, Ford asks how long she intends to stay, and Aunt Helen Beck (who is always referred to by all three names) becomes defensive and asks if he is trying to chase her away already, using the colloquial expression for being pushed out the door that gives the story its title. She gives Ford a small framed photo of a man who she says is his great-grandfather, Patrick Corrrigan, explaining that she always brings gifts for the people with whom she stays.

When they drive her back to their house, they are met by Mercury, a boy who lives in a nearby trailer. Aunt Helen Beck chides him about his long hair, which he says he likes. During the discussion while dinner is being prepared, Aunt Helen Beck says that she came up from Vallejo, California, where she stayed for a while with a niece. She lists some of the people at whose homes she has been a guest over the years.

When dinner is over, she tells them about the change purse she carries with the two pennies, explaining that it was made for her by her brother George, who was a child preacher but died young.

About a week into her stay, Aunt Helen Beck allows Chris to overhear her making a phone call to someone, suggesting that she might come to visit and clearly giving a negative response. Chris, feeling that she does not feel welcome to stay, tells her that she should plan on staying...

(The entire section is 864 words.)