At my house, a few days ago . . .
Susie: I’ve been thinking of writing a post about hats. I don’t quite know what I want to say, but I’ve been thinking about how white women can’t wear hats, you know?
Jif: It’s true.
Susie. You know what I mean? We don’t wear them. Because we don’t like them? Or because we just can’t do it the way it should be done?
Jif: Can’t. White women used to be able to wear hats. But then they lost the ability. It’s a Darwinian thing.
LG (believing she has overheard the beginning of a fairy tale): Ooh! Tell me! What happened to the white, hat-wearing women of Darwinia?
This post may not be politically correct, but I believe it to be true. With the possible exception of those attending the Kentucky Derby, white women can’t wear hats. We simply don’t have the knack for it. This wasn’t always the case. When I was very young, my mother wore a hat to church every Sunday. She had beautiful hats that matched her suits. (And her “bag” always matched her shoes, too.) She had hats with short, delicate veils in the front, and hats with peacock feathers on the side. She and Jackie Kennedy. And my mother-in-law, too, although I didn’t know her back then. She told me that once, early in their marriage after she had quarreled with my father-in-law, she spent her entire paycheck on a hat. Hats used to mean something, to white women.
In this city, on any given Sunday, you can go into any church in the African-American community, and you can see you some hats. In any color and style you can imagine, and some that you can’t. My church, like most churches, is only slightly racially integrated. So I go into the grocery store down the street from church on Sunday mornings after church, if I need a hat fix. And there are the lovely hat-wearing ladies, pushing carts, to pick up just a few forgotten items for Sunday dinner. And I love to compliment them, and they love to be complimented. And I covet their hats. Yes, I sin. I covet right there by the milk case.
In my church, there are about three ladies who will wear a hat on Easter Sunday. Four, if I join them, which I do on rare occasion. Easter seems to be the only time (other than Derby day) that white women even make the effort (except for sun protection at the beach or gardening, which, while wise, really doesn’t count). A few years ago, we planned to spend Easter in the South, which I had not done in a couple of decades. I got it in my head that Southern women, of which I am one (when it suits my purposes 😉 by blood and by relocation, would not have lost the ability to wear a pretty hat to church on Easter Sunday. So I went to a store in which I was by far the palest shopper, and I bought me a hat. My dress was a black, short-sleeved sheath style, with ivory tulips casually bordering the hem. My hat was black straw, with an ivory magnolia blossom on the side, and a loosely woven veil on the front, black veil with . . . ohmygosh, I swoon to think of it now . . . tiny ivory baby’s breath blossoms strewn here and there.
I looked FINE.
I went off to the Y’all Come Baptist Church thinking that I would fit right in with the steel magnolias in the neighboring pews. Um . . . not so much. I was the only freakin’ magnolia with a hat on my head, not to mention the only magnolia with a magnolia on the hat on my head. And everyone stared at me. And afterwards, people came up to me — I was a “visitor,” and Baptists, particularly Southern Baptists, will always
grill greet a visitor. And after inquiring as to where the hell I came from, many speculated, “Y’all still wear hats to church up North? I wish we did . . . ” Yea, yea, whatever.
Last year, LG and I decided that we would wear hats to church on Easter. Well, LG always does, so far, but I decided to join her. We went to a place that has a lot of hats. And we were not alone. If there is any public activity more fun than trying on Easter hats with your little girl and three strange, elderly black women, well I’m sure I don’t know what it is. LG is still young enough not to be mortified by her mother striking up conversations with strangers in stores, and these ladies were nice enough to welcome us in to their hat party.
I started out by complimenting the one trying the lime-green silk with the polka-dot bow. “Oh, that one’s nice.”
Then it got a little more enthusiastic, with the compliments and the hats flying, “Oooh, chil’! That hat is YOU!”
Then it became almost frenzied, with all five of us trying, and posing, and passing, and praising, and I received perhaps the most memorable compliment of my life, and one I don’t expect to top, no matter what hat I may end up wearing on any Easter for the rest of my life:
“Ooooh, girl! You show up in that one, Jesus ain’t the only thing’ll be resurrected!”