Kandi Geary was just getting ready to leave Kohl's department store in Duluth. A woman and her young daughter were just entering the store.

Duluth's Geary, 60, described what happened next.

"I was at the bench inside the store," Geary said. "I was putting my hat and mittens on to go outside."

This occurred just before Christmas. Geary recently shared her story in a phone interview.

Geary said the woman entering the store with her daughter mentioned in passing, "I love your hat."

That didn't surprise Geary, she said.

"Hats never look good on me, but this hat did," she said. "I got compliments on it wherever I wore it. It happened all the time."

She didn't think much about it until the woman asked her a question.

" 'Did you get it locally?' " Geary said the woman asked her. "That stopped me. I told her, 'Actually, I don't know where it originally came from.' I told her that I called it my gratitude hat because my friend gave it to me. It was one of her cancer hats. She gave it to me after her hair grew back. I call it my gratitude hat because it reminds me of how far she has come and how happy I am that she's here. That's all I said."

Geary remembered getting the hat a couple of years earlier. Her friend, the cancer survivor, was getting rid of all the scarves and hats she had worn when she underwent cancer treatments and lost her hair.

"She had them all on the dining room table and said, 'Do you want any?' So I took one for my granddaughter, one for my daughter-in-law and one for me," Geary said. "We brought the rest to CHUM."

In the entry that day at Kohl's, Geary's conversation with the woman and her daughter then took a surprising turn, Geary said.

"She said, 'I was just diagnosed with cancer,' " Geary said. " 'We're just coming from the oncologist.' And she started crying."

Geary didn't hesitate.

"I took the hat off my head and handed it to her," Geary said. "She said, 'No, that's OK.' And I said, 'No. You have to have this hat.' "

"Are you sure?" the woman asked Geary.

"I said, 'I'm solidly sure this hat belongs with you,' " Geary said.

That's when the woman's daughter spoke up. The girl appeared to be about 8 or 9, Geary said. As she spoke, she was half-smiling, half-crying, Geary said.

"We came here to buy a hat," the girl told Geary.

And the girl's mom said, "This is the first time I've felt like God is with me in this," Geary said.

"I said to her and the girl, 'I hope this hat reminds you you're never alone on this journey,' " Geary said. "I said to the little girl, 'You remember, you're never alone.' "

Hatless, Geary started out of the store to her car. The woman approached her one more time.

"I don't even know your name," she said to Geary.

"My name is Kandi," Geary told her. "And my friend will be so thrilled to know her hat is on another cancer journey."

As surprised as she was about the encounter, Geary embraced it in a cosmic sense.

"It's just trusting the universe," she said.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com. Find his Facebook page at facebook.com/SamCookOutdoors or his blog at samcook.areavoices.com.