Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How Hats Tell Stories: Learning about my next door neighbor

I absolutely love stick ups! At least I do when they occur in millinery, as opposed to when they occur in banks and convenience stores.

Stick ups are eye catching details on hats that hover above the hat's crown, the top part of a hat. They seemed expected in comedic character's hats, with the most iconic being a daisy shape on a stick above a flower pot shaped hat.

The story behind this particular late 1950's era stick up however is not so much one of comedy but rather one of pathos

(I wrote the story about this hat awhile ago. I still think about the owner from time to time. She was a nurse too. This post is my way of appreciating her during Nurses Week.)
This hat belonged to my next door neighbor, Mrs. Reba Daniels (may she rest in peace...) She was a heavy shapeless older widow when I first met her in 1984. Her home was a tiny two bedroom one bath affair in a small post WWII subdivision.

Our properties were divided by a 4 ft. high white picket fence. Naturally from time to time we would both be outside at the same time and spoke to each other just enough to be neighborly.

I remember our first conversation, which occurred shortly after we moved into our property. "We" at that time included my husband, our 5 year old daughter and 4 year old son, one brittany spaniel, one long haired tabby, and four caged rabbits.

Mrs. D. set her jaw, and looked up at me. She asked if we had a dog. I said yes. She said she didn't like dogs. She then asked if we had a cat. Again I said yes. She said she didn't like cats. She glanced at the far end of our yard, and asked if we had rabbits. I could hardly deny the four cages with four large white bunnies in repose. Yes, we had rabbits. She looked me in the eye and informed me she didn't like rabbits.

Then she asked if we had children.
Yes, we had children. Two. A girl and a boy.

I still remember the long look she gave me as she pressed her lips together, sealing in the obvious observation. I smiled and bid her good day, leaving her to her tired yard with dying grass and weed choked flower beds.

Little by little over the years I learned more about my neighbor. She had been a nurse, and raised a son. "Come met my baby boy" she once called over the fence, her arm wrapped around the waist of a bemused 60 year old man. Her face was glowing as he smiled at her, and helped her with some routine household maintenance.

Another time she noted my profusion of roses and wild flowers in bloom. "I always dreamed of the kind of garden I would have once I retired from nursing" she shared. "But when I finally did retire, I had arthritis in my knees and hands so bad, I couldn't do a thing". She looked at her one struggling ragged robin rose, shook her head, and worked her way slowly up the three steps leading to her kitchen door.

I wish I could say I offered to help her with her garden, but at that time in my own life it was all I could do to just keep up with our laundry, cooking and cleaning and car pooling.

The day finally came when Mrs. Daniel's son came to help her move. The little house was now just too much for her to manage. She was going into a retirement home. What few possessions she owned were to be stripped to the barest minimum, and the rest sold as best as they could be at a garage sale.

I walked across our drive way and on to hers, where a few card tables held the knickknacks and household items that she would no longer require. None of them looked like much to me. Inside the garage was a clothing rack with shapeless polyester church dresses, some crumpled low heeled shoes, and a hat.

This hat.

It was a deep shade of fuchsia, made of rich plush french velvet, which is nothing like the polyester velvets of today. The veil was knotted back with the ends tabbed in fuchsia satin, and each tab had a diamond spark in the center. And the stick up...dime sized diamonds that seemed to be watching both the hat and the surroundings with an energy as mesmerizing as a spotlight.

I gently picked it up, amazed at its saucy exuberance, and amused at the witty gesture the stick up produced. I had never seen anything like it. Noticing a mirror, I placed the hat upon my 1980's page boy styled hair and instantly was transformation from "Mom-and-Housewife" in jeans and tee shirt to flirty "Art Gallery and Cocktail Party Going Sister".

Mrs. Daniels stumped over to me.

"I made that hat", she said slowly, like someone recalling a dream. "I took a class, and made that hat. I used to make hats. That was a long time ago."

I wish I had asked her where she wore that hat. Was it made to match a long ago discarded suit or dress? Did she ever wear the veil untied, covering her face with a fuchsia blush, perhaps to conceal the rosy glow that was brought on by sipping a glass of champagne or red wine?

I will never know. Instead I went home and dug a few dollars from my purse, made my purchase, and returned home with the hat, a few memories, and a mystery.

10 comments:

myletterstoemily said...

what a great story! told us a bit about
a saucier version of herself in a day gone
by.

kind of sad.

Kate said...

What a lovely story! The color and the stickup says her life wasn't always so dour. K Q;-)

Just a little something from Judy said...

I usually don't have the time to read long posts word for word, but today I did. You are a gifted writer and I am a fortunate recipient. Hats really do tell stories.

Vicki said...

I love this story! It's too bad you'll never know the answers to your questions. Why aren't you publishing some of your wonderful short stories? Oh, oops, I guess you are! :)

ellen b. said...

Another wonderful story about a lady and her hat. Wow she made that!?
Enjoy...

Sara said...

This story was so poignant...I can't help wondering about Mrs. Daniels' story. Is this the hat that got you to thinking about making them one day yourself?

Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

What a neat story...another one that needed to be told!

Lovella ♥ said...

What a beautiful story Jill. That hat is ever so sweet. . and I love the stick up things too.

It does make a person wonder what stories need to be told ..and for some. .never will be.

shari @ little blue deer said...

Oh, I love that story! And the hat! So cool to find a whole blog about millinery, I know I love it, but that's about it! Can't wait to learn more, I'm your newest follower! XO!

Cristina - madhatter wannabe said...

A beautiful hat and a beautifully told story!
I love the transformation power of a hat :-)