“It’s so cold today”, he thought.
He sniffed and shivered briefly as he pulled the collar of his coat a little closer around his neck.
The cane tapped quietly, rhythmically, as he made his way past the corner store. Stopping, briefly, to check the payphone for change.
Once each year, however cold it became, he made this trip on foot.
Four miles one way. Four miles back.
Each year it got harder. Each year it seemed farther. Yet each year, on this day, he walked.
And he always wore this hat.
Not just because it kept his head warm, but because she had loved it so.
Her smile came back to him just then, and that mischievous pose as she stood there hiding something behind her back.
His delight when she made him close his eyes. Then her look of triumph as he opened his eyes and saw her holding this hat.
This dark gray, soft felt, fedora.
Her obvious pleasure as he tried it on. Oh how she had teased him! Telling him that he looked “…just like Cagney.”
And then she had kissed him. Asked him to wear it always. And so, each year, on this day, he always did.
He paused briefly by the school yard. To catch his breath and to watch the
children playing. Shiny new bicycles and bright bouncing balls. Glittering eyes
and warm laughter.
How he envied them their youth.
He sighed as he pondered his past and their future and then he walked on toward the corner.
Not far now.
He stepped carefully from the curb just as the cold wind gusted strongly. And before he could catch it, his hat…her hat…was gone.
He turned slowly, disbelieving, and watched the hat as it tumbled and spun on the up-draft, finally catching on the high branch of a large evergreen tree just inside the schoolyard fence.
There was nothing he could do. Only stand there staring up at it. It was 25, maybe 30 feet up, wedged tightly between the forked tree branches.
It might as well have been a mile.
He crossed the street slowly then turned once more. He took one last look at the hat she once had held.
And then he turned and reluctantly walked away.
His head was cold now. The bitter wind, with its cursed gusts, had finally slowed to a fitful breeze. Yet he hardly noticed that now.
The grass was yellowed and frozen. It crackled as he knelt slowly, painfully, first to one knee, then the other. He set his cane aside and folded his hands to pray.
He stayed very still for a time, allowing his labored breathing to calm and his aging heart to rest, as he silently regarded the carved and marbled stone.
Slowly…reverently…he closed his eyes, and bowed his balding head.
He spoke softly to her then. Telling her all about his world and how it had changed in the last year. He told her how much he missed her. And how, sometimes, after all these years, he could still hear her voice in the garden.
Haltingly then…almost fearfully…amid bitter tears and deep sadness, he told her
about the hat.
He told her how much he had loved it, and her. How much he missed it, and her, and how sorry…how so, very, sorry….
Startled, he opened his eyes.
“I’m sorry to bother you.”
Wiping away cold, salty tears he looked up toward the voice. Young by the sound of it. Very young.
A boy. Perhaps ten or twelve years old. All bundled up against the winter cold. Holding a new, bright red ball in one hand and in the other…
His hat. Her hat.
“I saw your hat go up into that tree, sir, just like my kite did last summer. It was a pretty easy climb so I went up and got it for you.”
Slowly and filled with wonder, he reached out a blue-veined and shaking hand and took the hat from the boy.
He placed it back on his head (a bit more firmly this time). And with the boy’s help, he retrieved his cane and slowly rose to his feet.
He touched the headstone one more time and then turned back toward home, the boy at his side.
“Thank you, son.”
“My name’s Tommy.”
“Thank you, Tommy.”
“You’re welcome, sir, and Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas to you, Tommy.”
And together they walked and they talked through the crisp, late-December morning.
The boy with his ball and the man...
...with his hat.
May you all find great joy in the small and unexpected blessings, so very easily
overlooked, this holiday season and always.
Merry Christmas everyone!
The Hat, John B. Greet © 12/1994