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Image by Ben Hershey

‘Hat Party’

It will start with the madness of the Hat Party.

Parents and kids pile inside their town’s old community hall. The one that bursts with the click clack of salsa dancing on Tuesdays, and the ghoulish howls of a haunted house at Halloween.

They’ve come to get hats. Folding tables are lined with tablecloths and balloons in each Little League team’s color. Meet your new teams! the flyers read in the entryway. Get your team hats at Hat Party!

A long line of hungry people waits to be dished up with $20 per person of pasta, bread rolls, and iceberg lettuce swimming in ranch dressing. Each person in line holds raffle tickets, in hopes of winning a bright blue Little League sweatshirt.

A choice is made to play country music over the loudspeakers during the dinner. Quiet parents like Mrs. Buttermilk wonder at the price to pay for not having to make dinner for one night.

She sits at a table with her five-year-old son Harry. Their last name is Broderick, but the woman writing name tags at the door can’t hear over the noise.

A little boy with close-cropped blond hair and eyes as blue as the sea sits across from Mrs. Buttermilk.

“Do you know what horses smell like?” he says.

“Hay?” Mrs. Buttermilk suggests.

“When you walk past a house, and it smells bad you think they must have a horse because it smells like poop!” He laughs.

“Actually, it smells like hay after it is DIGESTED and pooped out,” a girl yells over the music.

“Well, if a dog eats hay will it smell like a horse?” the first boy asks.

“I wonder what you would smell like if you ate hay,” Harry yells back.

The children laugh. It is now children vs. parents. They try without success to saw plastic knives and forks into their bread rolls. Mrs. Buttermilk catches another woman’s eyes, and they smile.

Moms cram food into their children’s mouths, wiping napkins over tomato-sauce splattered faces, the children assault rock hard blocks of butter, trying to spread it on bread rolls that won’t open.

Dads stand, hovering near the tables, glad not to be participating in the butter struggle. They wait for their turn to carry paper plates full of salad dressing and uneaten food to the trash cans for their wives.

Mrs. Buttermilk carries Harry’s plate to the trash herself and returns to the table. The parents are mostly strangers, waiting for the baseball hats. They are starting their first little league team, with some dread after seeing the weekly schedule.

They don’t know that just weeks later, after a dozen games, a dozen practices, a dozen parents’ turn to work the snack shack, a dozen ballpark hot dogs, a dozen times packing up mitts and hats and helmets and bats, and a dozen children alternating meltdowns with dirty faces and dusty cleats, that something unexpected will happen.

At the Hat Party, parents don’t know that soon they will be genuinely cheering for other people’s children. They’ll know all the parents’ names and faces and foibles, and friendly banter about the weather will turn into something more. Pitching in to give rides or borrow mitts and swap snack shack duties and stories about parenting and life.

They will watch as coaches run after their kids, herding them like cats, showing them how to swing and throw, standing in the outfield with the ones picking daisies, talking through the game. At the Hat Party they don’t quite yet know how it feels to watch the coaches, these young men and women, show such affection for someone else’s kids.

Mrs. Buttermilk will watch her son, who has no father, look up at his coaches and beam. She’ll smile when the men pat his head and tell him he got a piece of it when the pitches come.

It will be the first baseball season under the lights on school nights and in the bright sun on Saturday mornings. And no umpires will mean no parents yelling at umpires. No one will keep score.

Like fairy dust sprinkled over the bases, the kids will each eventually get a hit and throw in the right direction.

They will begin to love the sound of the whomp of the ball hitting a leather mitt and the metallic clink of the bat hitting the ball. The cheers when they get a hit, and the clapping when they don’t.

“Good try!” the parents will call out to the kids on opposing teams. “You’ll get it next time.”

With growing confidence, they start to have more fun together. Some will learn how to throw a ball, and some learn how to throw themselves into a game and into life with their whole hearts.

Some parents will remember their own first baseball season and the smell of freshly cut grass when they were a part of something besides work.

The children will think about the game while they’re doing homework. They’ll greet teammates in the halls at school, kids they didn’t know before. The youngest will embrace when they see each other because they haven’t lost that yet.

Then one day parents will wash the uniforms for the last time before the team photo and collapse in a heap as the kids hang up their hats for good. At least until next year.

The parents will find an empty space on their Saturday calendars where they meet no more. Maybe it’s that unexpected feeling that explains why they turn around and register for soccer.

Mrs. Buttermilk anticipates none of this as she sits with strangers at the Hat Party.

Her son Harry skips to the car afterwards, wearing his new hat. He says now he isn’t so scared to start playing. Also, he is feeling full after all that butter.

“Life seems to happen in the spaces between our fears,” Mrs. Buttermilk says to her boy. “Sometimes all we need is a new hat.”

Jennifer Molidor is a nature writer living in Northern California. She works on sustainable food campaigns for a conservation nonprofit, and is working on a children’s series about wildlife. 


  1. Peter Carton


  2. Anonymous

    Nice one.


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