Old Man’s Hat

About three blocks into my journey to school, every day, I pass an elderly gentleman who wears the same military coat and jeans. His bright red marine hat sticks out as a vibrant beacon in the cool and calm dawn. I do not know what his name is, nor do I know how old he is, or where he came from, or his life stories. I do know he sits on a scratched wooden bench outside on his old ragged porch, watching the world go by. I also know that he does the same thing every morning, as I do myself.

I woke up, ate breakfast, got ready, and began my journey to school. I take the same route to and from. My schedule may vary by a few minutes here or there, but still, I am habitual. When our paths cross, we may exchange pleasantries, but nothing meaningful. Nothing real. Just an awkward wave or nod. On occasion, there’s a ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’. There is no deep connection between myself and this old man. There is no reason for me to say ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ because the words carry no weight; still, we acknowledge each other’s existence. Nothing more, nothing less.

One day he did not show up outside on my walk to school. I thought very little of it, since it was a bit chilly out. Perhaps he stayed in to keep warm. But the next morning was the same. I took my path, and as I passed the house where he usually was, sitting on his porch, drinking his coffee or tea or whatever beverage he decide on that day, I saw he was not there, and again, I thought very little about it.

The next day was a Saturday, so for the next two days I did not pass by his house. On Monday I performed my morning routine as usual. As I passed his house I noticed he was absent once again.

I then decided that after school I would go to the house and ring the doorbell. I became anxious as the periods passed more slowly than seemed physically possible. As the last bell rang I scurried towards my home and stopped in front of the house of the old man with the red hat. I walked gingerly up onto the porch and hesitantly pressed the rectangular button. I heard a ring and waited. After about forty five seconds of silence, I decided to ring once more. The sound echoed through the house. Another forty five seconds of silence passed and I felt that it was enough.

I began walking away as I heard a creaking door open. I turned sharply to see a little old lady open the door. She seemed very confused and rather distraught.

“Hello,” she said more like a question than a statement. She held a sudoku booklet in her hand and had a pencil behind her ear.

“Hi! I’m Molly. I live down the street, and I walk this way to school. I see your husband sitting on the porch every morning, and I haven’t seen him for the past couple of days. Is everything alright?”

She gave a light laugh. “Yes, yes. Everything is fine. He refuses to go outside without his hat, which I am sure you have seen. He is balding and is quite embarrassed about it. He lost that silly old hat while fishing with our grandson.”

“I am glad everything is okay! I was worried. Sorry to interupt your sudoku! Have a nice evening.”

“You as well!” The old lady closed the door as I turned away and walked down the steps.

Later that evening an idea hit me. I drove to the nearest store in an effort to find a hat that matched the old man’s. After several failed attempts, I hit gold. I had finally found the hat the old man had. I could not wait until the next morning. I practically ran to school, and as I passed the house once more, I dropped the hat off on the doorstep with a note saying: While it might not be your hat, I hope this is close enough! -Sincerely, Molly.

The next day I walked back past the house and sure enough, there he was, the old man wearing the new hat I had purchased for him. This time, as our paths crossed, he waved me over.

“Thank you for the hat, young lady. It was very thoughtful of you. My name is Barry.” He reached out his hand for me to shake it.

“You’re welcome! I thought you would like it! I’m Molly.” I shook his hand, waved goodbye, and made my way to school.

From then on, our pleasantries were more than just that. They finally carried weight. They had meaning.