Monday, January 21, 2013

Hats are hot again!

Hats are hot again! 

This Christmas I gave everyone at our family gathering a hat I had knitted.  I had been mulling in my mind what to give that showed my love without spending money on things they already had or didn’t need. 

Great-granddaughter Maisie asked for a Rapunzel hat in early November, one with braids. A Rapunzel hat? I fashioned  her one with long golden braids and that got my knitting needles clicking. 

I knitted slouch hats, toques, cloches – every style and color with wool I purchased at the thrift store. It is amazing how many unfinished projects end up at the thrift store, often expensive wool.  A few balls of this and a skein of that – enough for hats.  

My family members could keep what I chose for them or exchange it for another. I had a big sack of hats.I enclosed the following reasons to wear a hat: 

To keep warm .. brr...brrr...brrrr

To look cool, COOL, COOL

To use an offering plate when the real one is full.  (As a child I often saw men use hats as offering plates)

To identify your tribe.  “I Am a Wiebe Original.”

To tie your head down in a Kansas tornado. (It wouldn’t do to go chasing down the street for your head, would it?)

To let people know what you do – or don’t do. (I am a nurse)

To bring in eggs from the henhouse – if you keep chickens.

 To hide your hair when it needs washing – and who hasn’t tried to do that with turbans, berets, scarves?

 To keep your bald head from blinding friends.

 To remind yourself that the person (that’s Katie) who knitted the hat loves you.

So I’m advocating wearing hats. Hats are hot, said the morning newspaper.  When I was a child everyone wore something on their heads.  A man never walked outside the door without first reaching for his hat. 

A woman, especially a married woman,  wore a hat to show that she was attached to someone. And to match her dress.

Yet buying a hat was always a problem for my mother, having grown up in southern Russian, where women wore shawls or Haubes, not hats. But now in this New Country she decided to wear a hat.

That’s when the mail order catalog, that much-loved book of all small-town Depression-era children, came into full focus. Wishing came free.

Sending off an order to Eaton’s or Simpsons was always a big event. First came the long discussion about what was needed, then the  repeated paging through the catalog again and again to find the best buy. We read the description of the articles to ourselves and to Mother who didn’t read English as yet.  Was it available in the right size? No. Then another look.   Shoes were always a problem. If, after two tries the shoes still didn’t fit right, we traced the outline of our growing feet on cardboard and sent that to the mail order house.

But how can you do that with a hat? I wrote about this process in my book The Storekeeper’s Daughter.  After hours spent studying the catalog, Mother courageously ordered a hat. “Get one with a big brim,” said Dad.  She was wearing a big brimmed hat when he first met her. A green one. But she wanted one of the more stylish ones without a brim. Size was also a problem, for she wore a bun. How could she fit a bun under a close-fitting hat? 

Off went the order for a brown felt hat with orange feather decorations.

The day the big box arrived, we waited impatiently  for her to open the package and pull The Hat  carefully, oh so carefully, from its nest of tissue paper.  She tried it on and examined it carefully in front of our only mirror larger than a hairbrush.

“Does it look good?” We knew better than to express strong opinions at this stage of the process.

“I’ll try it on again when Dad comes home.”

Another try-on session. Dad was non-committal, Mother uncertain.

“It doesn’t look good.”  The decision had been made. Sadness tinged her words. She knew  Dad hated customers who brought back merchandise, half eaten.  Yet she had too much of Dad’s money tied  up in this hat.  It didn’t look good. The picture in the catalog and the reality didn’t match.

Her mouth formed lines of determination yet sorrow. She examined the hat carefully again from every angle to confirm her decision. Yes, it had to go back.

Any item returned to the mail order house included a long letter of apology by one of my older sisters. Mother believed real people worked for these companies.  They weren’t faceless entities.  The fact that the cloche didn’t look good on a person with her kind of forehead wasn’t their fault. She had misjudged the picture. She offered her sincere apologies with emphasis on the words, “I didn’t wear it.”

Mail order companies, among the most accommodating business, were happy to serve their thousands of customers who were learning the art of buying by mail even though they didn’t know English or the new customs well.

Ordering from the catalog, of course, meant that you might meet the same hat coming toward you next Sunday on several other women.

My hat recipients can be sure they won’t meet the same hat any day. Each hat  is a special creation for a special person. 

 Hats are hot, not just cool,  again. Wear a hat today!

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