One year, soon after Charlie was born, Marianne gave Isaac a red knit cap for Valentine’s day. “Did you make it for me?” he asked.
“No, I bought it at the market. But it looks warm, doesn’t it?”
Isaac put the hat on. It was warm and soft and just the right size. “I love it!” he said. And he wore it often. February was still quite cold, so he wore it many times that year.
They also took pictures of baby Charlie sleeping inside the hat. The brim was pulled up near his chin, and he looked like he was in a tiny sleeping bag.
Isaac loved his red hat. He was careful with it, and didn’t loan it out to anybody. And yet, years and years later, the hat looked worn. It wasn’t nearly as red or soft. There were spots where the yarn was stretched thin and matted.
One morning, as Isaac was getting ready to leave, Charlie looked up at him and frowned. “You need a new hat, dad.”
Isaac put his hands up to hover protectively next to his hat. “I love this hat. It’s as old as you are, you know.”
“Yes, yes.” Charlie rolled his eyes. “I’ve seen the pictures.”
“It’s hard to believe you were that small, right?”
“I got bigger because I got older. Just like your hat got older.”
Isaac covered his ears. “I didn’t hear that.”
Marianne came out of the kitchen drying her hands on a towel. She looked at Isaac and frowned. “You need a new hat.”
“See?” Charlie folded his arms across his chest and smiled.
Isaac stepped towards the door. “I really have to go now. Maybe we can talk about this later.” He opened the door and stepped outside. “Bye.” He closed the door and hurried to his car.
When he arrived at work, he left the red hat on his desk. It almost felt like he was sitting at the bedside of an old friend who had been given a terrible diagnosis. “Don’t worry,” he told the hat. “You have plenty of good years left. I’ll bring home a movie and some ice cream and they’ll forget all about this terrible new hat idea.”
The movie and ice cream distraction idea seemed to work. They had a fun evening, and nobody mentioned hats once. Isaac hid the hat under his pillow just in case.
He was pretty sure they wouldn’t get rid of his favorite hat without his permission, but he didn’t want to take any chances. There was that one time that his mom threw out his favorite boots just because there was a hole in the toe. For weeks before that he stuffed newspaper inside and his foot had stayed mostly dry and his socks were only a little stained by the newspaper ink.
It wasn’t that he had a hard time throwing things away. Not usually, anyway. But when something had enough good memories attached to it, it was hard to give it up.
Things that were well-loved had a certain glow about them. Miss Marta’s gray shawl had that glow. So did one of Mr. Johnson’s ties that was covered in tiny elephants, and Charlie’s lucky socks, and Marianne’s tiny green earrings. To Isaac his hat glowed brightest of all, but that might just be because it was his and he loved it best.
The next morning, when Isaac put the red hat on, Charlie frowned, but he didn’t say anything. Marianne stepped out of the kitchen to say goodbye. She looked at the hat and frowned. But she didn’t say anything about the hat either. Isaac relaxed. His hat was safe.
A month later, it was Valentine’s day. Isaac hummed happy birthday to his hat as he put it on. He was looking forward to an evening of pizza and board games.
Marianne and Charlie met him at the door after work. Charlie held up a lumpy present wrapped in shiny red paper and taped closed with what looked like most of a roll of tape. “I just finished your present.”
Isaac finished putting his coat away and changed out of his shoes. Then he took the present and examined it from all sides. “Let’s go sit on the couch. That looks like it may take a little while to unwrap.”
“You aren’t going to try to open it without ripping the paper, right?” Charlie tugged on the present. “I’ll open it. You take too long.”
Isaac kept a tight hold on his present. “It’s my present. Unwrapping it is part of the fun. Enjoy the journey.”
Marianne sighed. “Let’s go make cocoa. He’ll still be unwrapping when it’s ready.”
Luckily, Isaac discovered a corner where the tape was applied less densely, and soon enough he was able to slide out a soft, bright, red, knit something. “Is this a hat?” he asked. He wasn’t sure how he felt about a new hat. Could he really replace his old hat and all the memories it represented?
“Of course it is.” Charlie grinned. “I made it for you myself. Mom helped.”
Isaac looked down at his new red hat. It glowed even brighter than the old one. “I love it,” he said.