The Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Black Hat

Happy returns and small kindnesses

By Janet Wheaton

I have always liked to wear hats, not only to keep the sun out of my eyes and off my face, but because I don’t have good hair — it’s too fine to provide much warmth for my head and too flat to hold a nice style. A good hat, however, must be more than serviceable, it should define you. Such a hat is not easy to find.

I don’t remember exactly when I got the black hat, a soft, felted wool fedora with a 2.5-inch brim and a ribbon around the crown (no feather). I ordered it online and knew as soon as I pulled it out of the box and set it on my head, tilted the brim and dimpled the crown that it was my hat. Worn with a tan trench coat from early fall through late spring, it was met frequently with approving glances and elicited comments such as “nice hat.”

I have always kept it close when I took it off in restaurants, kept my hand over it in gusty weather, and double-checked hotel rooms and overhead bins when traveling. But last spring my husband and I flew to Ireland, where a friend would join us. The trip over was fraught with delayed flights and missed connections; and upon arrival, we were met with excruciating lines, first at customs and then the rental car agency. I could hardly keep my eyes open on our drive to our first destination in the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin. Exhausted from lack of sleep and addled by jet lag, I went into town and had dinner with my companions. Back in the cozy B&B, I fell into bed and had one of the best night’s sleep ever. The next morning I awoke refreshed and excited to be in this land I loved so well.

After a delightful breakfast and chat with our host and hostess, Mike and Margaret, we piled into our rental car and headed across Ireland. You are certainly guessing what I have to tell you. Yes, when we arrived at our next destination and got out of the car, I realized my hat was missing. The day before was something of a blur, and I couldn’t even begin to think where I might have left it. On the plane? In the restaurant? At the B&B? My husband and our friend could not remember when they last saw the hat on my head.

I bought an Aran wool knit hat to keep my head warm and soldiered on, silently mourning the black hat. Uncertain of where I had lost it and who might have found it, I held out slim hope of ever seeing my hat again.

Upon returning home, I emailed the hosts of the B&B where we stayed in Wicklow and asked: Could they have found my hat in our room, the breakfast room or the lobby? If not, would they be so kind as to check with the restaurant where we ate dinner that night? The next day I heard back from Mike that our waitress at the restaurant had picked up a hat matching the description I gave him and brought it to the office in case someone came back to claim it. Mike was going to fetch it that day and put it in the mail to me. I shed tears of joy, but remained fearful over the next week. Would it get lost in the mail? Would it be crushed and ruined from the shipping?

But a week later, the black hat came back to me, carefully packed and protected. I danced to the mirror and gave the brim an affectionate little tug. Several times that day and even the following, I had to go to the closet and take a peek, like a pinch to remind myself I hadn’t dreamed its return. I wrote to both the waitress and Mike, effusing my gratitude and appreciation, especially to the waitress, who had found — hers for the taking — a valuable item, a fine hat that might have looked quite smart on her own head, but instead had done what she could to get it back to its owner.

I felt that gratitude afresh when I packed my old friend away for the season. It reminded me of a time years ago when I admired a gold necklace worn around the neck of a co-worker. When I complimented it, she had responded: “I found it in the ladies room at a restaurant over the weekend.” And no, she said, she had not turned it in. Its owner would probably not have a clue where her necklace had fallen, would never go back to the restaurant to check, and some waitress or other patron would have wound up pocketing it. This was my colleague’s rationale for keeping the necklace. I thought about that girl who lost the necklace, what special meaning it might have held for her, what a bitter loss it must have been, how she might be missing it still. I thought about the smugness of my erstwhile co-worker over her “find” — an exquisite piece that had cost her nothing. Or so she thought. PS

Janet Wheaton is a Pinehurst resident, frequent contributor to PineStraw, and a recent writer-in-residence at Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities.

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