When is a hat not a hat? When it's a valentine.

She needed one last thing for her trip, and on Feb. 14, she found it in a way she couldn't have imagined.

A couple of years ago, I decided it was time to take a break. I was (finally) about to graduate, and I wanted to reward myself for all those college years that consisted of too many Saturday nights spent with Stalin and midnight snacks.

So, since one of the classes I'd taken was beginning Spanish, and I certainly wanted to learn more than just "Cómo estás?," I signed up for Spanish immersion classes in the Dominican Republic.

As I was curiously browsing through different websites and guidebooks, getting ready for my little adventure, I realized that besides getting all the necessities, I also needed to get a sun hat.

After I looked at several more pictures showing sunny Caribbean beaches and crystal-blue water, I enthusiastically jumped into my old Honda Accord to go hat hunting. I was on a mission. "I'm not coming home without a hat," I told myself.

When I got to the mall, it suddenly occurred to me that in the middle of planning my trip, I somehow hadn't paid much attention to the calendar. It was Feb. 14, and Valentine's fever had taken over the whole shopping center.

As I wandered around the mall, my excitement slowly but surely diminished. All I could see were stuffed "I love you" bears and hearts on every possible item you can imagine. But there were no hats to be seen anywhere.

"OK, one more store and if I can't find a hat, I'm going home," I thought, tired from all the Valentine's mania.

As I made my way through the jungle of yet more stuffed animals, I finally saw a rack with summer hats hanging on it. Yea!

I walked over and tried on a couple. I really liked one in particular. I just couldn't decide whether I wanted to get the one with a pink ribbon or a blue ribbon tied decoratively around it.

Blue or pink? I didn't know, so I thought I would look around the store some more, hoping that would help me decide.

When I walked by the cash register, I noticed a 40-something man standing there waiting to be helped ... and staring at me.

"You looked really great in those hats," he said to me.

"Oh, thank you," I politely answered and increased my pace. I was in no mood to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and my greasy hair and old sweat pants weren't giving me much of a boost of confidence, either.

I stopped by a sale rack and looked through colorful shirts that were just begging me to take them to the Caribbean. "Hmm, maybe I can get one of these," I thought, trying to determine which one would work best.

"Excuse me." A voice suddenly interrupted my dreamy state of mind. I turned around and that man was standing right behind me. He looked shy but determined.

Before I could do or say anything, he continued with what he wanted to say. "I'm sorry to bother you, but those hats looked really great on you. You see, I don't have anybody to buy a Valentine's gift for this year, so I got you one of the hats. I hope you don't mind," he said while handing me a plastic bag.

Before I could recover from my surprise and say something, he disappeared. My jaw dropped. Wow! I was amazed.

"Thank you!" I finally breathed out, feeling like Alice in Wonderland. Who would imagine that out of the blue a stranger would walk up to you in a mall and give you a present?

When I looked into the bag, there was, as he had promised, a hat inside. It was the type I'd wanted to buy but hadn't been sure about the ribbon color.

He'd picked the blue one. Fine with me. It will match my blue eyes – and the blue sky and blue sea in the Caribbean.

It's been a couple of years since I received my hat, but I'll never forget that unbelievable act of kindness, which still brings a smile to my face.

I do hope the man found his valentine after all.

And most of all – I no longer feel blue on Valentine's Day, even when I'm alone, because I remember my hat story.

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