I Found An Unexpected Community While Wearing A College Hat

In the 1988 movie classic, “Crossing Delancey,” decent and ever-patient Sam Posner informs lovable, but dismissive Izzy that she may wish to change her perspective. “You should try a new hat sometime. It might look good on you,” he suggests. With a new hat from Sam, a clearer look into her own desires, plus a dose of meddling from her impish grandmother, a match is ultimately made between Izzy and Sam.

Three decades after the release of this charming movie, the pickles are still fresh, and the quotations still resonate. Sometimes a person just needs a new hat, and not just a symbolic one, for opportunities and new connections to emerge.

The college hat I wear draws me closer to my daughter who goes to that school.
Wearing a hat from my daughter’s college has brought me into an unexpected community.

Each morning for the past three years, I have been taking our energetic dog for a walk around the neighborhood. Some fellow dog walkers or joggers I have encountered seem to thrive in the cold northeastern autumn, winter, and spring mornings. These are humans who consider subfreezing temperatures “brisk,” “refreshing,” and even “invigorating.” These are not my people.

I wear a sweater in the summertime when visiting my parents in Virginia – that’s southern Virginia where the heat is decidedly not dry. I actually look forward to the occasional hot flash, so I can be warm at night without so many blankets. In New York, between the months of October and May, I almost always wear a hat, so that my ears don’t freeze when walking the dog.

My favorite hat for our morning constitutionals used to be a creamy white, fuzzy beret that actually matched our puppy. Then, after a trip to the University of Michigan for parents’ weekend festivities and hours of sitting on a concrete seat attempting to understand a football game, I purchased a somewhat ordinary looking, blue and yellow (sorry, maize) striped hat with a modest-sized “M” at the top, perched tastefully underneath a small pom-pom. The hat was deliriously warm, even for Ann Arbor in November.

Back at home, this Michigan hat became my go-to accessory for dog walking, shopping, and running errands. Wearing the hat made me feel close to my daughter who was so happily ensconced in her school with new friends and interesting classes, but who was now living over six hundred miles away from me.

Almost immediately, something strange started to happen whenever I would wear the hat. Strangers (these are New Yorkers) started to talk to me. “Hey, go Blue,” a person would call out to me from across the street.

“Tough loss on Saturday,” a stranger would shake his head and sympathize in the produce department.

Baseball is my sport of choice, so I had to check in with my children to catch up regarding names of quarterbacks, personality quirks of coaches, and intelligence regarding rival teams, such as the dreaded Ohio State. At my son’s little league baseball games, I’ve been known to sit on the opposing side’s bleachers to chat with friends and even let a cheer slip out for their children, so I’m not exactly a hardened sports fan. Even though my family moved when I was three-years-old, my passport still reveals that I was born in Ohio. How much of a pure Michigan fan can I be?

Just this week, two people approached me at the grocery store. A person who had lived in Ann Arbor for both his undergraduate and graduate studies asked me whether or not I had attended the school. We spoke about my daughter’s dormitory, the upcoming winter weather there, and his love of Ann Arbor.

Another gentleman, this one a proud Penn State alum, needed to speak to me in front of the waxed paper and aluminum foil about the game between these schools (which I had witnessed first-hand). These were not pick-up lines. I dimly remember those from my 20’s. What I had stumbled into was a community of Wolverines and alums from Big 10 schools who felt connected to one another through sports and through shared experiences and memories. Although I was not an official member of this tribe, my child was fully accepted, and I was tangentially attached to this enthusiastic culture of camaraderie and spirit.

I may not be much of a football fan, and the entire undergraduate student body in my university was smaller than my daughter’s freshman class, but I have been feeling the embrace of a network of alumni and just plain lovers of Michigan sports since donning my new hat.

When the older gentleman at the gas station asks me, “Will he stay or will he go?” I look puzzled for a moment. “Harbaugh, Harbaugh,” he prompts me, pointing to my warm hat and referring to the much discussed football coach. Having done my due diligence, I can parrot my sons’ opinions with some confidence. “They have great defense, but somehow need to learn to keep it together when the games really matter.” The man smiles and nods. He gives me a knowing glance. It’s the look I used to share with my brother when we would have pizza with non-Jewish friends, and we were the only two kids who didn’t eat the pepperoni.

I’ve worn a new hat this year, and it’s opened the door to new conversations and the warmth of a community. My head and my heart are warmer for it.


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How I’m Learning To Slowly Let Go Of My College Senior

About Sharon Forman

Sharon Forman grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, but has lived in New York for 30 years where she is a reform rabbi, a mom of three, a wife, a bar and bat mitzvah tutor, a little league carpool driver, and the author of Honest Answers to Your Child’s Jewish Questions, numerous essays on parenting, and most recently The Baseball Haggadah:  A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings.

Read more posts by Sharon

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