My Ten Cent Spangled Knit Cap, Circa 1960, and Assorted Head Coverings
While she shampooed my hair, Marcia and I giggled over hats. Hats atrocious. Hats ridiculous. For my walk to her shop, I had tugged on a tasteless floppy felt turquoise hat festooned with a pink “rose”. I wear it because it is warm.
“I have a more outrageous hat than that in our garage sale,” said Marcia. “It was my mom’s. I’ll show you when we are finished.”
I’ve always liked hats. On second thought, I’m not sure that “like” is the right word. I have an affinity for hats. I see hats. I notice them. I wear them. Winter or summer, I seldom leave home without one. Or even two, if the weather is iffy.
Or perhaps my hats are simply habit. Used to be, in my pre-Vatican II Catholic church childhood, all girls, young and old, were required to wear a hat. Tenderness of age brooked no exception. Sin was evoked; maybe not hell-fire-and-burn-forever sin but certainly an increase to my daily mounting time in Purgatory. Forgetting your head covering was not a tolerated excuse. Sister Mary St. Something-or-Other would snare your arm and affix a handkerchief to your scalp with a sharp bobby pin.
No matter what the weather, every Easter Sunday a new hat adorned my head, topping off a confection of a dress. I fondly remember some of those hats, made variously with straw or tulle, decorated with wire covered flowers, sprigs of leaves or even bright red “cherries”. I particularly recall a distasteful number, constructed of pink fuzzy stuff over ice tongs which gripped each side of my head. I suffered that torture the entire season, offering my pain to Jesus without complaint, shortening my days in Purgatory.
In winter we broke out the scarves, blessed scarves. Wool, cotton or rayon. Patterned or plain, all fringed. Tied snug beneath my chin. I looked like a Russian peasant girl.
Even as a child I recognized the power of adornment, the theatrical value of hats. While I had to wear the same hat each season, many of the grown women and even some of the luckier girls owned a variety of head coverings. I hated those girls. But the women’s hats offered many hours of delightful diversion. In particular I recall Mrs. Jim McCann, tall and stately, to my mind the most beautiful woman in church. Her hats, broad brimmed with bits of lace or fur and net, were wonders. She did not buy her chapeau from JC Penney. Most other women in church wore grown-up versions of my own dreadful hats.
Years later, as I searched through second-hand and vintage stores for garments from which to cobble together period costumes for plays, I began buying hats that caught my eye. I’ve garnered a small collection: hats elegant, practical, foreign, beautiful and ugly. Designer hats. Straw, silk, ribbon, fur, cloth, felt, lace and feather hats.
Today my headgear tends to be about survival; protection from sun, rain, winds and cold. Practical. However, from time to time, I grab a frivolous hat on my way out the door.
When she finished my hair, Marcia led me to her garage. “Here it is.” She held up a blue yarn, crocheted, bowl of a cap, hung about with pearlescent disks the size of miniature satellite dishes. “Doesn’t this just remind you of Catherine Wilson?”
Catherine Wilson has been gone for years. But I was immediately transported to St. Thomas Catholic Church in 1959. It was winter. Outside the wind fisted the walls. Rubber overshoes dripped small puddles of melted snow on the oak floor. I sat mid-way up the aisle, on the left side, snug in a green wool, knee-length coat with a heavy cotton print scarf over my head. Catherine Wilson sat further up in a pew on the right. She wore a mid-length navy cloth coat. The twin sister of this hat, a hovercraft of blue loops and pearly bangles, overlay her tight gray curls.
The scene evoked by that truly ugly hat was too real. I left Marcia’s shop, walked as far as the end of her drive, wheeled around and went back. “Marcia, I have to have that hat. If I don’t take it, it will haunt me. How much is it?”
This morning I wore my new hat to coffee with the boys at the city shop. They howled.
“I bought it at your yard sale,” I told Richard.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“You paid money for that,” asked Charlie.
“Ten cents,” I said.
“You paid too much,” said Chuck.
It was worth every penny.
HDN: Looking out my back door
November 8, 2012