“Do you want a hat?” are the words of introduction Elaine Rauer of South Jamesport has been making of late to hatless people she meets in her travels.

Admittedly, those travels aren’t far these days — they’re mostly outside to talk to hatless kids in the neighborhood.

A retired critical care nurse and avid crocheter, Ms. Rauer is also the beneficiary of a steady supply of yarn, courtesy of the community swap closet at the Flanders Senior Center. 

So when she went into quarantine at the beginning of the pandemic, she took out her crochet hook and began making the best of it.

“At the moment, it just gives me something to do,” she said. “With the pandemic, it’s a bit hard to do anything now.”

In the past year, she estimates she’s crocheted about 120 hats, and she’s not stopping any time soon. 

“I didn’t mean to get involved with hats. I had leftover yarn and a pattern and off I went,” she said. “I make two hats — a ski cap and a slouchy hat like the girls like. That pattern I bought in a book. I can do it in just a couple hours. I make about one a day.”

When Ms. Rauer first found herself with an abundance of hats, she found out from Ruth Simon at the Hampton Bays Senior Center that Ms. Simon’s mother could use some hats to bring to the Boys & Girls Club.

Elaine crochets two styles of hats.

Ms. Rauer then went down to the Aquebogue School to see if anyone needed a hat. 

“I didn’t get through the lobby without giving away three hats,” she said. She eventually left about 20 hats there, then dropped off more hats at the Pulaski Street School in Riverhead and at Cutchogue East Elementary School.

When a local family came to look at a boat her husband had for sale in their yard, Ms. Rauer asked the kids if they wanted hats. They eagerly accepted the offer, then brought their friends over as well.

“They brought their cousins over… It was all word of mouth,” she said.

She made quite a few more hats that Lorri Schneider at the Flanders Senior Center found homes for, as that particular senior center had made a home for Ms. Rauer’s crocheting group before the pandemic.

Ms. Rauer learned how to crochet from her grandmother as a child, but crocheting became a social activity for her when she joined Judy Norton’s crocheting club at the Riverhead Library, which she volunteered to help teach. The club then moved to the Flanders Senior Center, where they set up shop every Tuesday morning around 10 a.m., then stuck around for lunch at noon. At the senior center, she found an abundance of yarn.

“A lot of people clean out their mom’s closet when they pass away, and they keep bringing the stuff to the senior center,” she said. “I take whatever I can use, and it works out pretty good.”

Senior centers throughout the East End were among the first places to close their doors to the public at the start of the pandemic, though they are still active in making sure senior citizens get the meals they need at home. 

While Ms. Norton and Ms. Rauer still meet with a small group of friends to continue their crocheting together at private homes, she’s hoping it won’t be much longer before they can all receive the Covid-19 vaccine and life will return to normal.

She closes her eyes and shakes her head at the thought of what critical care nurses have gone through in the past year — how they’ve gone in to work every day knowing the horrors they’d face.

“You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do,” she said of her former career. But right now, she said, everyone is suffering from the social isolation as the pandemic has dragged on.

“We started our own little community,” she said of the crocheting group. “From that, I learned how to quilt, but I haven’t done any of that recently. We’ve got a lot of people who want to go back. All of us are relatively health, and up and out all the time.”

When the group resumes its Tuesday meetings, she said, “anybody can come.”           —BY

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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