Greek-American Stories: Hats Off to Yiannis

March 24, 2019
Phyllis “Kiki” Sembos

The subject around the table that Saturday was the sudden warmth and rise in temperature the day before. “Almost unnatural for the middle of February,” John told the others who agreed with him. “I thought of going fishing,” Dimos said, grinning. Just then, a disgruntled Yiannis entered Dixon’s, coffee in hand, taking a seat. “What’s up, now, Yiannis?” asked Dimos, stirring his coffee, slowly.

“Do I look like a beggar,” he asked no one in particular, ignoring the donut plate.

Looking surprised, John answered, “No”, as did Dimos and Kipreos. George responded, “Not lately.” Ignoring him, Yiannis explained. “Yesterday was unusually warm. So, I went to the park, found a south facing bench and sat down. I took off my hat, lifted my head and felt the warm sun on my face. It was so comforting. Then, I dozed off.”

Pausing to observe the variety of donuts, he decided to abstain.

He continued. “Then, a ‘click’ caught my hearing. And, another and another. I figured it was some dog’s leash. But, when another click sounded, I opened my eyes and looked around. Nothing! Nobody was around. But, I decided I had enough and went to pick up my hat and saw there was money in it. Coins!” He looked up, very frustrated. “Lots of them! Then, it hit me! People thought I was looking for handouts. Me! Huh!” He continued annoyed. Dimos grinned. “How much?”  Yiannis looked up. “One dollar and seventy five cents – all coins!” George, feeling his usual devilish self, said, “Oh, I get it! You’re annoyed because if they were dollars they wouldn’t wake you up, right?”

Turning on him, Yiannis told him, “You would think that! Not true! I’m offended because I was looked at by passersby as a vagabond, that’s why. My pride was hurt, that’s what.”

John decided to comfort him. “Aw, don’t let that upset you, Yiannis! Just think! Today’s coffee and subway ride was free. And, you probably have change left, too.”

Yiannis paused between sips, thinking about it and began to relax. He looked down at his coffee and realized he’d bought it with the handouts. The subway ride from his house to Dixon’s was from the donations, too. “That’s…that’s true. Today’s coffee was free.” A slow smile came to his face as he reached out for a donut. Kipreos added, “Someone wanted to feel generous, kind and thoughtful, too. That’s all! You, probably, made that someone glad they helped. So, it goes both ways.”

“Yeah!” Yiannis agreed, picturing passersby digging into their pockets upon seeing the hat and deciding to be a Good Samaritan. “I never thought about it like that.” He looked up at the wide window that looked out to the street and said, “Looks like another nice day, eh?”

After finishing his coffee, Yiannis wiped his chin, got up and bade them, “See ya’ next time,” and left.

Exchanging expressions, George, with a sly grin, said, “Looks like maybe Yiannis has found a new career. Sunbathing.” Dimos murmured, “Think so?” John nodded. “Could be – now that he realized his coffees and subway rides are free. But, things like that can backfire, you know. Someone might notice the coins, pick them up and run off.” George shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about that. When it comes to money my bet’s on that Yiannis. He would outrun the thief.”

The following Saturday found them all in their places as Yiannis sauntered in, coffee in hand, his hair rumpled and a very unhappy expression on his face. He sat down, saying nothing after the usual greetings. Dimos started. “Ok Yiannis. Tell us what’s up now.” George, a wide grin on his face, said, “You look tanned. Just come from the park?” John quipped, “How’s business?” Kipreos asked, “Is your coffee free today?”

Taking a deep breath, Yiannis looked up and told them. “Well, it was another nice day. I did go to the park and sat on the south facing bench. I took off my hat and dozed off. The sun was warm. And…” They all waited for the climax that was delayed until Dimos asked him, “Well?” George nodded and said, “I know! No one contributed to your welfare.”

Taking in a breath, Yiannis revealed, “How could they? Someone stole my hat!”


This article is part of a continuing series dealing with reports of Greek POWs in Asia Minor in the Thessaloniki newspaper, Makedonia in July 1936.

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