Mrs. Harding's Hat Is Missing
“I can’t believe it,” I said, pointing out the window of my mother’s office. “Mrs. Harding’s hat is missing!”
“Is that so?” My mother asked, keeping her eyes on the page in front of her.
This was clearly a crisis and she was too busy being the activities director of the massive retirement community Moments & Memories. Typical for summer, except that made me a six-year-old with a lot of time on her hands.
“I’ll be back, Mama!”
“Where are you going, Charlotte?”
“I need to help Mrs. Harding find her hat,” I said.
“You need to leave the residents alone, dear. Go find some of the other kids to play with.”
I sighed. “Yes, Mama.”
I turned around and marched away. As if I was going to play silly little games with the other kids. Marco Polo in the pool was fun, but I had a mystery to solve. On the scale of importance, solving a mystery was at least an eight, and Marco Polo ranked somewhere around a five, depending on the day. After all, it was terribly important that Mrs. Harding had her hat.
"Hi Mrs. Harding, I’m Charlotte and I noticed your hat is missing. I’m here to help you find it!”
Mrs. Harding said nothing, though she looked sad. She didn’t usually say anything, I knew because I’d seen the staff trying to get her to say something, but she’s one of the oldest residents here so I just assumed that she’s said all the words anyone’s ever needed to for someone in their nineties. Mrs. Harding has these deep folds around her eyes and salty hair. I liked to imagine that she smiled a lot when she wasn’t burdened with a wheelchair and her hat wasn’t missing. This is why it was so important for me to find the lovely purple topper. I know I’ve seen her wear it, and I really think it will make her smile again if I can find it.
My mama is always telling me that I need to represent the Mason family by being my very best. Maybe that’s it? Mrs. Harding was just trying to represent Mrs. Harding in the best way possible, and she can’t do that without her hat. It is a pretty fantastic looking hat, so I could understand why she needed it returned—that way she could show off her few remaining features.
“Well, we won’t find your hat by sitting around here. This little spot is a rather boring place to sit anyway. I say we start with your room.”
I got myself behind Mrs. Harding and gave a mighty push. The wheels of her chair stuck just a bit in the grass, but once I got her going we sped along and I got her back to her room in no time.
Parking her chair in the living room—decorated with purple pansies and lace doilies—I marched straight to her bedroom. Not that I actually expected to find the hat there, but all investigations need to start somewhere. I flipped the light switch. In front of me was a tall mirror, which of course, made it super-duper inviting to make some faces at myself. Really, what good is a mirror if it’s not used for making silly faces at yourself?
I pulled my pigtails straight out and stuck my tongue out at myself. With my freckles, I sort of looked like Pippi Longstocking, or so my mother has told me. I’ve seen a picture of the fictional character, but I have never seen the similarities.
After making a couple more faces at myself, I started looking for Mrs. Harding’s hat by crawling underneath the bed. I had to move aside all of her knick-knacks and almost got all the way underneath to make sure I didn’t miss a single corner. Definitely no hat there. As I was pulling myself out from under the dust ruffle I heard a voice from the living room.
“Oh, thank goodness! I was so worried about you, Mrs. Harding. Are you alright? Well, you seem to be alright.” It sounded like Anna. She was one of my favorite caretakers here because she was so interesting to talk to. I loved her blue eyes against her dark skin, and she had the neatest accent.
I skipped down the hall. “Hi, Anna! I brought Mrs. Harding here to help her look for her hat. Did you notice that it’s missing?”
“Charlotte! You cannot just go moving the residents about without permission. Especially residents like Mrs. Harding that need constant supervision,” Anna scolded.
I questioned her reasoning. When I had found Mrs. Harding, she was all alone without a single person around her. I would have even ventured to say that she had been lonely. “But—”
“No, buts, Charlotte. Do not move Mrs. Harding without permission again. Now, out of her room, it’s time for lunch. Go play with the other children,” Anna said.
“I’ll keep looking for your hat Mrs. Harding,” the declaration left my lips as I walked out the door. “I won’t rest until it is found and placed on your head once more!”
My words were spoken in truth, I was going to find Mrs. Harding’s hat even if it took me all summer, though, Anna was right, it was time for lunch. The search for the missing hat would have to wait until I’d eaten my PB&J with carrot sticks. Running out of steam while I was looking for the departed purple headdress would be absolutely disastrous.
I fumed as I sat in a chair in my mother’s office. She had been told of my venture yesterday and my punishment was to stay inside all morning—reading. I like to read, but I was losing precious time looking for Mrs. Harding’s hat by just sitting here; and on top of that, it was a beautiful day outside, the sunshine taunting me.
“Mama, can I go get some lunch now?”
My mother looked up from her work to give me ‘the stare’. It’s the one where she’s calculating something before speaking to me as if she’s contemplating trusting how well I’ll listen. I don’t get why yesterday was such a problem, I was just trying to help one of the residents.
“Yes, you may go, but leave Mrs. Harding alone. I don’t want to hear of another mishap today.”
I zipped out the door straight for the cafeteria to grab my daily dose of PB&J and carrot sticks. I could never get enough PB&J, I’d eat it for every meal if my mama let me. I had lost so much time sitting in the chair—at least it was a big oversized comfy thing—that I decided to look for Mrs. Harding’s hat while I ate. It takes a lot of skill to walk and not spill the precious contents of a PB&J all over oneself, and it was a skill I had mastered.
I decided that the next best place to look for Mrs. Harding’s hat was in the gardens. I had often seen the staff wheel her through the tall rose hedges for fresh air. The wind could have easily blown it right off her head. The travesty of such a thing made me frown. How awful it would be to lose one’s favorite accessory because of the North Wind.
I had checked several rose bushes with no luck when I happened to stumble upon Mrs. Harding. The poor woman was just sitting there, staring at a rose, or the bush itself, I couldn’t tell, but I thought she would prefer a different view. Maybe the pond would be better so she could see the ducks swim.
I hopped into her view and said, “Hi, Mrs. Harding! Lovely afternoon we’re having. I’m still on the hunt for your hat. I would appreciate some help, maybe you’ll have some luck in spotting it if we move you to another spot in the garden. Do you mind if I move you to another part of the garden?”
I didn’t wait for her to answer, but went ahead and gave her a solid push along the bricked path. It was much easier to move her today than yesterday. A few twists and turns brought us to the cute little duck pond in the center of the garden. I let go of the wheelchair when I spotted a bit of purple on the ground ahead.
I reached under the rose bush only to find a purple napkin that someone had probably lost while they were eating lunch. Well, that was a bummer. I thought I had really been on to something.
I heard a voice again, and this time it sounded really upset. I whipped around only to see Mrs. Harding’s wheelchair sitting in the duck pond. It was a shallow thing, but her slippered feet were definitely soaked. Oops. I ran back over to Anna and Mrs. Harding.
“Charlotte! I told you to leave this poor woman alone,” Anna huffed.
“I’m so sorry! I must have forgotten to put on the lock. It won’t happen again,” I said, with as much an apologetic tone as I could muster.
Anna glared at me, and I didn’t like the meaning behind it.
I hit my head against the back of the chair, contemplating the little ridges and bumps on the ceiling. Sighing, I folded my body forward, letting my arms hang limply over the edge.
“Charlotte, you know why you are in that chair. I told you yesterday to stay away from the residents. There are plenty of children here for you to play with,” my mother said.
“But I was just trying to help Mrs. Harding find her hat!” I wasn’t sure if she heard me since my words were muffled by the chair.
“Mrs. Harding doesn’t have a hat,” she replied.
“Yes! She does!” I threw my hands in the air in exasperation. “How have you never seen it? It’s this big fluffy thing that’s purple with yellow flowers!” Why did no one believe me?
My mother looked to the ceiling. She did that a lot. I don’t know why since it’s not like the odd patterns on the ceiling would tell her anything. “You have always had such an imagination, Charlotte, but I promise you, Mrs. Harding does not have a purple hat with yellow flowers.”
I huffed while sinking into the big chair. I mumbled to myself, which I shouldn’t have done because my mother heard it.
Her sharp gaze caught my eyes. “What did you say?”
“I said she needs her hat to be beautiful. Poor Mrs. Harding doesn’t have anything if she doesn’t have her hat,” I said.
“Charlotte, true beauty is not something people can see. Mrs. Harding is beautiful in her own way, and even if she had one, she certainly doesn’t need a purple hat to make her more special.” Her face had softened some, but the correction was evident in her tone.
I didn’t believe her, and she raised a single brow at me when I didn’t respond. I slumped in my chair and said, “Yes, Mama.”
“What happened after that, Gamma?” My youngest granddaughter asked. She stood next to me in the bathroom on her purple stool painted with white pansy flowers. “Did you ever find Mrs. Harding’s hat?”
“No, Ella, I didn’t, though I looked for it the entire summer as I explored the grounds.” I smiled at her in the mirror before scrunching my nose to make a silly face.
Ella giggled a little then sighed. “That’s too bad.”
“The next school break I learned that Anna did find the missing purple hat while cleaning out Mrs. Harding’s rooms. It made me sad that she never got to wear it, but that summer I learned a very important lesson.”
“That the way we look is not as important as other people think. So, those cute little freckles on your nose and your long strawberry hair make you special.” I pulled the baseball cap from her head, revealing her bouncy curls. “Which means you shouldn’t let what your classmates say about your looks bother you. You are beautiful because you are kind, funny, curious, and”—I began to tickle her—“you have a great laugh.”
“Gamma!” Ella managed to say between pitches of beautiful laughter.