NYACK, N.Y. – Nearing Memorial Park, an acre of recreational ground inimitable to almost any American village, is an old sidewalk along Piermont Avenue, trod for perhaps 80 years now. On that walk, on a recent nascent spring day, when hope that the odd winter of quick and heavy snow and furious nor’easter had finally passed was a woman who looked to be 85 or so, wearing a grandma’s hat, a wool cap that could be drawn over the ears if the promising sun gave way to an April chill. Behind this lady was a child, probably 5, conceivably the same age the woman was when she first stepped on the avenue’s sidewalk.
“Mommy, that lady looks funny in her old hat,” said the child as she jumped from walk to street and back again. “I don’t have a hat on because it’s not winter – it’s spring and the birds are chirping, and they don’t have hats, either.”
The mom, obviously hearing this as question number five of maybe 25 on one day alone, answered in patience. “She’s cold. That lady doesn’t run all over and climb jungle gyms and chase her brother like you do. She’s just taking a nice walk in the warming sun.”
“Well, I still think her hat is funny,” replied the five-year-old as the mother and daughter walked past the lady. The woman heard the remark, smiled in reflection of acquired knowledge, and told the child, “This is not my hat. I borrowed it.”
“Mommy, maybe we can buy the lady a new hat since she had to borrow this old, funny one,” said the child. “No, I’m just fine,” answered the woman. “I’ll tell you a story. When I was little, probably your age, and playing in this park near the Hudson River, my grandmother would come by to watch. She would make sure I did not go more than a few steps into the river, that I didn’t play on the slippery rocks, that I kept my coat on. But one thing I would not do is wear my hat. Other kids wore hats, but I thought they were silly. I would make sure I left mine at home, or I would take it off as soon as I left the house.
“I had a lot of fun playing in this park then. We didn’t have swings and a jungle gym like you do now, but the hills, the stream, the waterfront are much the same except that the wonderful old dock is gone.
“My grandma would tell me over and over to put my hat on. Once, she took hers off and pushed it over my head. I got mad and threw it on the ground, and that made my grandmother sad. She didn’t speak all the way home.
“The years passed, and I grew up, leaving Nyack to get married and then came back after raising our children. I inherited my grandma’s house and began walking to this park as I did as a child. I don’t play on the slippery rocks anymore, and I don’t run, but I see my young self in children your age. And I now wear a hat because I’m cold.
“Do you know who I borrowed this very hat from? When I went into my grandma’s attic, I found many old things, including her old wool hat. I gave it a good wash, added a stitch or two of repair and now I wear it to Memorial Park. I can still hear my grandmother telling me to put on my own childhood cap, and I can feel her slipping this hat over my ears. Only now I don’t take it off and throw it on the ground. And I don’t think my grandma’s sad any more.”
“Cool story, mommy,” said the five-year-old as she said goodbye to the lady and ran to the slippery rocks.