The Elephant Hat

Doing something good is never a bad thing to do at any time of the year.

We had been in Invermere for the day, helping out at the Valley Echo, and it was time to head home to Golden. It was early Friday evening, December 30th, and as it was during the holidays and school was out, my little girl Madison (Madi) was with me, she’s nine. Upon leaving Invermere, one of us announced they had to use the washroom, so by the time the lights of Radium were in view, I was grateful, as a short distance can be so very long when such needs are an increasing priority.

Pulling in at the Petro-Can, we quickly found the washroom. Now, I’m a firm believer that if you use the ‘facilities’ at a service station, you ought to buy gas or at least a snack to support the business. We didn’t need gas, so I was an easy mark for a snack request. A quick browse and we had made our choices, and made our way to the cashier. Waiting just a moment to be served, Madi noticed some novelty items overhead, one of them a winter hat shaped like an elephant. It was very cute, with the trunk sticking fairly straight up in the air. Like I said, very cute.

Gathering up our snacks and putting away my change, a voice came from behind. I was vaguely aware of a gentleman waiting in line. “Do you like that elephant hat?” he said, speaking directly to Madi. He was a fair bit taller than her, and she had to look way up, so it was easy to see her wide-eyed expression. “Oh yes,” she replied. “Very much.” And off we went towards the door, having finished our business.

“Here you go,” said the gentleman to Madi, handing her the elephant hat. He had purchased the hat for her. “Really?” she said, slowly reaching out her hand, a bit skeptical, and looking to me for approval. He nodded with a smile and she took it. “Thank you very much,” she said, a bit shy, but recognizing she needed to say it. It all happened very quickly, and I turned to the man and said “Happy New Year to you” and we scampered off to our car. Buckled in and pointed out of the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of the gentleman on his way to his truck, thinking to myself “what just happened here?” He looked up and I smiled and gave him a big wave. He smiled and waved in return. I don’t know if he knew, but he had really made her day.

What inspires a perfect stranger to purchase a nearly $20 gift for a child? I have no idea. Was he a resident of the valley or maybe a visitor? Perhaps someone merely passing through. Did he have children, or maybe grandchildren of his own, and knew the simple happiness of a child? Or did he have no one to buy gifts for, and this presented a perfect opportunity, coinciding with the season. So many questions came to mind, to which there will likely be no answers. The magnitude of his kindness sunk in as we drove towards home, and my attention turned toward Madi. What would her reaction be? Would it be simply “cool, I got something for free” and all about the hat itself? I surely hoped not. But before I could put anything reasonable together that would help her focus on what lesson could be learned, as this experience was surely an excellent teaching opportunity, I sensed quiet in the back seat. “Mom, that man was so kind to me,” she said after a few minutes, “and he didn’t even know me. I just can’t believe it.” And then more silence. She was really thinking it over. In my rear view mirror, all you could see was elephant trunk. She wore the hat all the way home in the car.

It feels good to do something nice for someone else, and of course, to be on the receiving end. What began as a gentle gesture to simply delight a child, became a profound moment for a little girl, one that she will likely carry with her throughout her lifetime. How thrilled I was that my daughter could see beyond the hat itself, the thing, and appreciate the generosity of a stranger, a basic human kindness. There was no need for me to point out anything about the situation, she was acutely aware all on her own.

In hindsight, I wish we hadn’t been in such a hurry, although it was getting late and starting to snow. All I know about this man is that he drove a fairly new (if not brand new) Chev / GM type of truck, medium blue in colour, and it had some sort of headache rack in the back, and perhaps a tidy tank, I can’t quite be sure. There may have been someone along with him in the truck, I couldn’t tell.  He might not have given it much thought after that, maybe it was no big deal to him. It was however, a big deal to Madi, and I wish there was some way we could pass along how it made such a lasting impression. Our paths may never cross again, but you can be sure this little girl will remember it for many years to come, the night a stranger bought her an elephant hat.

Grateful mother,

Janet Crandall-Swaffield

Publisher, The Golden Star