It’s just a hat.
It’s a thing.
I should not get upset over a thing.
That’s what I told myself as we prepared to leave after a three-day trip to Chicago, all the while mentally retracing my steps — more than 40,000 of them, according to the app on my phone.
In glorious weather unusual for mid-April, I’d worn the hat as we walked to-and-from Navy Pier, site of EXPO Chicago, a 170,000-square foot exhibition floor filled with contemporary and modern art, displayed by galleries from around the world.
I’d worn the hat on the Chicago Riverwalk that abuts the Chicago River downtown, where we took in the after-dark debut of this year’s “Art on the Mart,” a fantastical digital art projection on the 2.5-acre facade of The Merchandise Mart.
I’d worn the hat the next morning as we toured Chicago’s architecture from aboard a boat. Even having grown up with an awareness of the city’s architectural heritage, there was much to see and learn.
I’d worn the hat walking to Shabbat dinner at my mother’s apartment in the Streeterville neighborhood and to lunch at my favorite among Chicago’s deep dish pizza parlors.
In short, wherever we walked, I’d worn the hat.
And then, late on the Saturday night before our early Sunday morning flight home to Atlanta, as we packed up, the hat was missing.
It’s just a hat, a thing, and I should not get upset over a thing. That’s what I told myself.
Sometimes a hat is just a hat, but this particular hat was of great sentimental value.
On the front, in silver stitching, was emblazoned, “1926.” On one side was the emblem of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team. The Blackhawks were founded and played their first National Hockey League game in 1926.
None of which explains why I was upset.
The hat belonged to my father, who died in October 2012.
My father, a New York native, lived in Chicago for nearly six decades, first in the city and then for many years in the suburbs. The hat was a present from my Chicago-native brother-in-law, because of that “1926.”
Dad was born in 1926. That is why he wore the hat. He is why I wore the hat on trips to Chicago and Maine.
I have photos of dad wearing the hat at “Camp Schechter,” the name given the cabins in the woods by the lake in Maine that he so enjoyed visiting.
So, as I waited to board our flight home from Chicago, I mentally retraced my steps.
On the Saturday, after the architectural boat tour, and after the pizza lunch, and after more hours spent perusing the art at EXPO Chicago, we walked back up Lake Shore Drive and North Michigan Avenue to a Streeterville tavern that we stumbled upon last year and liked enough to revisit.
Along with a childhood friend of my wife, who also flew in for EXPO Chicago (at the invitation of another childhood friend, who is the event’s director), we had such a lovely time at dinner that afterward I did not notice that my head was bare.
Not until we packed did I realize that the hat was missing. I was upset, but with just hours until our departure, I was resigned to having lost a tangible reminder of my father.
On our way to the airport, my wife suggested that, rather than continuing to sulk, I contact the last place we had been, Pippin’s Tavern. Of course, at 7 a.m. on a Sunday, no one answered a call and the phone’s mailbox was full. So, from the airport boarding lounge, I emailed the tavern and posted a note on its Facebook page.
I also texted my sister, who lives a 10-minute walk from my mother, asking if she would go to the tavern and inquire whether a hat had been found. When our plane touched down in Atlanta, I turned on my phone and found a text from my sister: “I have THE (hat emoji). I will send. Please Dave do not take out of Atlanta.”
I emailed the tavern, thanking them profusely. When we return to Chicago in August, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, we will stop in at Pippin’s and thank them in person.
Dad’s “1926” hat, however, will remain in my office at home in Atlanta.