THE HAT I STOLE FOR LOVE

THE HAT I STOLE FOR LOVE

From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

The Hat I Stole for Love

A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.

Mahatma Gandhi

Kissing was out of the question when I was in Grade 5 in a Catholic school. Written expressions of love were also frowned upon—except for Valentine’s Day, when a card was more a vote for the most popular kid than a message of real affection.

There was really only one chance in those days if a parochial schoolboy wanted to show his interest in a girl: He would steal her hat and hope she cared enough to chase him for it.

I have no idea how many times I stole Diane Tasca’s hat. I do know my love for her was real, and one of the things I liked most about her was her pep.

Her pep lent energy to her response to my hat thefts. Invariably, hands would go to hips, and she would say, loudly, “Edward, give me back my hat this instant,” followed by a few attempts to get it back. None was ever peppy enough to be successful. That would have ruined the game.

This was no common game of keep away. I never passed her hat to another boy, for instance, as this would have been a breach of trust. In taunting, such a move would have been inappropriate. But this was love.

One day a girl who was frequently the object of teasing was watching classmates jump rope when her hat was snatched. She wheeled around and lunged for it, but she was no match for the school-yard bully. Other Grade 6 boys joined in.

The hat was flying from boy to boy when, betraying my sex to stop what I saw as unfair play, I jumped in and brought it down. I returned the hat to its teary-eyed owner. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Diane watching. I was surrounded by the taunters, threatening retaliation. Then the recess bell rang. Even the bully froze in his tracks.

“Get you tomorrow,” he hissed.

I ran to catch up with my class, but I was a minute late. Sister Regina Christi caught me sneaking in. “Edward, do you have a good excuse for your tardiness?”

“No, Sister.” To report how I had rescued the girl would have cheapened the event, of course. Instead, I shot a look at Diane. Her face was full of understanding, I thought.

“Edward, you’ll stay after school.”

Later that afternoon, as I was passing the convent on my way home, out stepped Diane, fresh from her piano lesson. I stopped at the end of the path and waited. “Walk you home?” I asked, surprising myself. As we meandered down Springfield Road, she said, “I saw what you did today.”

“I did it for myself,” I said. “When I see someone helpless being picked on, I feel sick to my stomach.” There was some truth to this, naturally, though I hadn’t thought it through until then.

“Do you like her?”

There! She was jealous. “Sure I like her.”

“Do you like me?”

“Oh, yes, I really like you.”

“Then why do you steal my hat?”

I was flabbergasted. Did Diane think I was as mean as the school-yard bully?

“Be-be-because I like you so much.”

“Then that bully likes her, I guess.”

I was getting in deeper. “No, he hates her.”

“So you steal my hat because you hate me.”

“No, it’s the opposite.”

“What’s the difference?” Her pep was turning to pout.

I was floundering now. “Wait, look . . . if I didn’t like you, I’d steal your hat and throw it to the other boys. But I don’t. I keep it.”

“Then you are selfish and don’t want to share.”

“Share your hat? No!”

“You want to keep it all to yourself?”

“I give it back to you, don’t I?”

“Yes, but it’s still ungentlemanly.”

“Do you want me to stop?”

“Well, yes . . . and no,” she replied, looking as though she were solving a math problem.

I felt helpless. It was the first time I had come up against a deeper wisdom.

“No, I don’t want you to stop because I like the attention.”

I was almost getting it, but not quite. “And yes?”

“Yes, I want you to stop because it interferes with my vocation—and yours as well, I think.”

Today the word “vocation” can refer to any of the answers to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But in our tradition, it meant only one thing—being called to devote your life to God as a priest, a brother or a nun. Marriage would be precluded.

“Do you really think I have a vocation?” I asked.

“Well, I have thought about it a lot. How about you?”

“My mother wants me to be a priest, but my father has warned me against taking a job where I have to wear a dress to work.”

Diane looked up, her cheeks reddening from the shock of my answer. But when I couldn’t keep a straight face, we both started laughing.

“Edward Patrick Stivender,” she said, “you’re twisted.” Then she snatched my baseball cap and ran down the street. By the time I recovered from the surprise and caught up, she was at her door, my cap twirling on her finger. Diane giggled as she threw it back. Then she disappeared into the house, leaving me to figure out the meaning of the moment.

A few weeks later, Sister Regina Christi told the class that Diane had an announcement. As Diane faced the class, she avoided looking at me. “My father has been promoted, and we’re moving away this weekend,” she said, then sat down.

Moving? She’s moving? I stared at her. She put her head on the desk. “We will have a good-bye party on Friday, right after our weekly tic-tac-toe game,” Sister Christi said.

On Friday, as fate would have it, Diane and I were paired as contestants in our version of a popular TV game show, “Tic Tac Dough.” Four lines were drawn on the board, producing nine squares, each representing a different subject. I won the coin toss to go first, but I said, “I defer to Diane.”

She smiled at me. “Top, right square, please.”

“The category is geography,” Sister Christi said. “The question is, ‘What is the major export of Texas?’”

“Crude oil,” Diane answered.

“Correct. Edward?”

“Middle square, please, Sister.”

“Arithmetic. How much is eleven squared?”

“One hundred twenty-one.”

“Correct. Diane?”

“Lower right-hand corner.”

“Spell the word ‘encyclopedia.’”

Diane almost chanted as she spelled the word.

“Correct. Edward?”

“Middle, left square please.”

One boy shot me a look of consternation. Middle left would leave Diane a space to win. I couldn’t explain to him in sign language that I was just trying to show my affection. Sister was smiling at me though. At least she got it.

“The category is civics. How many seats in the United States Senate?”

“Ninety-six.”

“Correct. Diane?”

“Middle, right square please.”

“This is for the win. Quiet please. Name the seven sacraments.” The boys groaned. This was too easy. Grade 2 stuff.

“Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders, Extreme Unction . . .” Then Diane paused. We held our breath. She had skipped Matrimony. Could it be that she forgot? Diane looked at me, then in a voice beyond pep, said, “. . . Taking the vows of a nun: poverty, chastity and obedience.” A groan from the girls, a cheer from the boys.

“Wrong. Edward?” All the boys had their fingers crossed.

“Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders, Extreme Unction and Matrimony.” The boys were cheering. The girls looked crestfallen. But Diane was grinning from ear to ear as she shook my hand in congratulations.

Later, after we sang “For She’s a Jolly Good Classmate” and lined up for a piece of cake, Diane began cleaning her desk out. I asked if I could carry her books.

“No books to carry,” she laughed. “But you can carry my hat.” She held out the easiest one to steal, a tam with a yarn clump at the top—a perfect handle. I put it on my book bag.

The next morning my mind raced as I walked to Diane’s house to return her hat and say good-bye. I was still confused about winning the quiz. Did she really forget Matrimony? Would I really never see her again?

Diane was standing in front of her house, next to a large moving van. There was a question on the tip of my tongue, but I was having trouble getting it out. Just then her mother saw us and called Diane to come in immediately. “We’re almost ready,” she said.

“I have to go, Edward,” Diane said. Then she kissed me—full on the lips. Shocked, I stepped backward as she ran into the house.

“I love you,” I called after her. I began walking down the street still trying to figure out why she had given the answer she had to the quiz question. Perhaps she really did have a vocation, and this was her way of telling me our love could never be.

Then it hit me. She had let me win. She did love me— or something like it. Elated, I threw my book bag into the air. In midflight, her hat slipped out and fell at my feet. I picked it up and ran back to her house. But the van was gone, and her family’s station wagon was no longer in the driveway.

I ran to the door and knocked loudly. The sound echoed. They were gone. I’d never see her again. I held the hat to my nose and breathed in the warm scent of her hair. Then I hung it on the doorknob and walked down Springfield Road towards home.

Ed Stivender

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