The Gift of a Hat

by | Sep 30, 2021 | Outlook

I write this on the day before the October 2, 2021 Women’s March for Reproductive Rights, remembering my participation in the first Women’s March of January 2017.

I have the best hat in the world. It is black and sags a bit to the side giving it the air of a living thing that moves this way and that as I turn my head. My friend Beth knitted it for me and I have added a delicate and distinctive dragonfly pin made of marcasite, a gift from my Boston friend, Ingrid. I set the pin at a slight angle on the left side to give a jaunty effect to the whole, and when I wear it, it makes me walk with a spring in my step.

I earned this hat with a kind gesture. While participating in our annual Yankee Swap Christmas tradition with a group of friends, I managed to snag the only reputable gift in the mix from Rickey who had drawn it from the pile under the tree. It was a lovely knitted hat of multi-colored yarn whose style appealed to me – as I am not one in general who looks good in hats. When it was my turn to select a gift, I did not hesitate as I headed straight for the hat which she held tightly on her lap. Her crestfallen expression as I plucked it from her grasp gave me a pang of guilt. But the rules of the Yankee Swap are thus: If you can’t handle losing your gift to an unwelcome trade, don’t play the game.

And yet, I felt some shame. I can’t say for sure if I would have felt that way if things had been different. But they weren’t. The fact was that Rickey, that first lucky picker of the hat, had just lost all her earthly possessions when her house burnt to the ground in a propane furnace fire the month before. She and her husband had escaped with their lives in the 2:00AM incident and were left with no heirlooms, keepsakes, or clothes. Tearing open the Christmas wrapping, her eyes lit up knowing that now she had a hat with which to make it through the winter. And yet I stole it. Rules of the game, I tried to convince myself. But it didn’t work. At the end of the game, I picked up the hat and presented it to her with a Merry Christmas and a hug. She beamed. Surprisingly, two weeks later, Beth, who had knitted the original and was touched by the whole scene, presented me with a duplicate hat, but this one in black – my favorite color.

Now, some years later, I am at the door of my son’s house getting ready for the Women’s March on Washington. I have carefully picked my entire outfit – leggings under the jeans for warmth, sturdy but light hiking boots for standing and walking long distances, and a warm pink scarf in case it turns a bit colder than forecast. Almost ready, I stood there considering my hat. I had not taken the initiative to make or procure a “pussy hat” for the occasion, although it was well publicized that these pink handmade hats would be the unofficial uniform for the march. A pussy hat is a handmade hat of any shade of pink yarn, knitted in the shape of a rectangle so that when it is folded in two, the corners form what looks like the ears of a kitten. The attempt to reclaim the meaning of the word, ‘pussy,’ from its pornographic one was praiseworthy. But it wasn’t my style – either the hat or the gesture. So I prepared to put on my Beth hat. Then I hesitated. What if the day turned too warm and I had to take it off? No backpacks or large purses were allowed. What if I lost my hat in the crowd? This was a hat not easily replaced with its special meaning and its dragonfly pin. I decided that it wasn’t cold enough to require a hat and I left the house hatless.

As my marching partner, Susan, and I pulled into the DC Metro Station at the Springfield-Franconia stop, I felt a thrill. The sight of the throngs of women mobbing the sidewalk waiting on line simply to ascend the stairs to the subway platform was overwhelming. The feeling of oneness with the crowd made my heart swell. And as we slowly moved toward the train, Metro SmartCards in hand, I realized what was so distinctive about this assembly of people, bigger than in any New York City rush hour I had ever seen: it was the sea of pink hats stretching for hundreds of feet ahead of me. Susan had one, but I didn’t.

I believe that the universe gives back what it receives from you. I had once done a good deed and karma was now heading my way. Once in D.C., we followed the crowds through the streets to Independence Avenue where the march was set to begin with its opening rally. Legions of pink-hatted women, girls, and even men moved as one, so there was no need to ask directions. Small groups of marchers wore hand-made hats of the same shade of pink and style of knit, so it was easy to see who was traveling together. I felt a bit of a chill set in and soon realized that it was cloudier and cooler than I had anticipated. I now regretted the lack of a hat.

Just then, in front of me, on the ground but not trampled on one bit, lay a hand-crocheted pink hat with no ears – a pussy hat without the pussy. Just the sort of hat I would have made myself if I knew how to crochet. I looked around. It didn’t seem to belong to anyone. It was sitting there waiting for me to pick it up. So I did. I scanned the crowds all day, resolved to give it up should I see anyone with a similar style. But I never did. And so, now warm and proud, I joined in the pink brigade.

I don’t know who lost her hat on that historic day. But whoever she is, I truly hope that one day, when she least expects it but needs it the most, some random hat will present itself to her in the same magical way.