Frank Thoms

My Russian Black Fur Hat

Apr 23, 2023 by Frank Thoms

I wore it every day in late fall, 1986, to my first US–Soviet exchange school in Leningrad. And I wore it to my second Leningrad exchange school the next year. And after each teacher exchange, I wore it to a school I found on my own in Moscow. And in early 1991, teaching at my fourth school in Alma-Ata, Kazakstan, wearing the hat was absolutely necessary walking to and from school. I was grateful for that hat whether or not it made me ‘appear Russian.'

Nearly three months teaching in Alma-Ata, my brother called me to tell my mother was very sick. Having not enough dollars to procure a plane ticket (required for foreigners), friends purchased one in rubles got a Soviet passport of a bald two-hundred pound man for me. They instructed me not to utter a word on the flight, especially when we had to briefly debark from the plane on the way to Leningrad; my ‘Russian’ accent would have given me away. Wearing my rabbit hat was additional insurance. Meeting my best friend at Leningrad’s Pulkovo airport was more than a relief.

Did wearing my Russian black fur hat make a difference? I will never know. One more tidbit: On my next-to-last leg of my trip on the train to Finland, I encountered a curious Russian who wanted to know what I had in my duffle bags. When I arrived home on the plane, the bags were nowhere to be seen. Nor my Russian black fur hat.