Every year, my church has a gratitude service and pie social on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. So, of course, I had to wear the pie dress. Here I am posing with the pie I baked, before heading to the service.
I’m grateful for so many gifts this Thanksgiving, starting with my wonderful, supportive husband. In addition to his many other great qualities, he’s the photographer for all these hat project pictures of me. He learned long ago that he'd get a big smile from me if I was near a dessert.
I’m thankful I have food and shelter. I’m thankful for my friends and family. And I’m especially thankful to everyone who spends a little time reading The Hat Project. I can’t tell you what it means to me.
I got this burgundy fascinator a couple of years ago when I was visiting the Bay Area, hanging out with some of my old JewelTones friends. Betsy (aka Rosie the Riveter) had generously planned a gathering, and we sat around catching up and reminiscing about old gigs (the time we sang at a 100th birthday party; the time we were hired because “Tony Bennet wasn’t available;” the time the power went out in a windowless room, and when we opened a door for light, the wind blew all the music off the piano).
Bonnie, the costumer, brought out this fascinator, which she’d decided wasn’t right for the JewelTones and was giving away. I actually restrained myself for a full second or two to give someone else a chance before leaping up and trying it on. Then, of course, everyone said I could have it.
I’m also thankful for my many generous friends who have passed on hats to me.
My best wishes to all of you for a lovely Thanksgiving!
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I waited in the wings while Terry started the sprightly piano intro and the other JewelTones sang “All aboard!” My cue. I strode out front with the JewelTones' vintage suitcase, singing, “Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?” That song opened many JewelTones shows, and I had the little opening solo. I loved doing that bit because I got to mime looking around and being puzzled. Backing into line with the other JewelTones, I shifted to the background while Betsy, dressed as Rosie the Riveter, told stories of the past, and the other JewelTones took their turns out front in other songs.
I was lucky to be able to sing with the group for about ten years (literally--Lucky was my nom de Jewel). Those gigs were some of the best times of my life. Most of the performances weren’t glamorous—we sang in a lot of church social halls and community centers and backyards—but we tried to make every gig special, and the audience, usually older people, loved hearing our vintage songs. Though we had other outfits, our forties costumes were the most popular, as were that era's songs. Our costumer, Bonnie, found me this wonderful forties-style outfit, including this red hat with black feathers.
Joining the JewelTones was like gaining nine sisters and one brother (the pianist). We'd spend rehearsals singing "Sentimental Journey" and "Java Jive," eating Deanne's famous chocolate chip cookies, and laughing together. They were the friends who would loan me space heaters when my furnace went out, provide chairs and tables for a big party, bring me an apple pie when I was recovering from surgery. When I left the Bay Area, I left the group, one of the heartbreaking things for me about moving. I did go back and sing a few pieces with them at their 15th anniversary party (you can spot me in a few videos on their web site), but aside from that, I haven't been performing those wonderful old songs, and my JewelTones hat has been sitting in a box in the closet.
Recently, a friend who has a small theater put on a double bill of radio plays: The Third Man, and an episode of Fibber McGee and Molly. He suggested attending the performance dressed up, which I decided made it the perfect occasion to wear the JewelTones hat. Rather than wear the entire outfit, I re-purposed some other items from my closet, but I did wear the hat and shoes. (Those forties shoes are so cool, while I was posing for this picture, a woman passing by on the street asked me where I'd gotten them).
The plays were a lot of fun, and during Fibber McGee, my friend, Brent, sang a couple of forties solos, including “Embraceable You.” That song was the first JewelTones song I (nervously) soloed in, with a lot of encouragement. So watching my new friend, I thought about my old friends, my JewelTones family, far away but close to my heart.
I was jonesing for a new hat. I had started The Hat Project a month or two previously, and I don’t think it had really sunk in, how many hats I had, how long this project would take. Or maybe I’m fooling myself—I did know I had a lot more hats to wear and didn’t care: I still wanted a new hat.
Recently I had bought three ring hats in an auction lot at shopgoodwill.com. The lot included The First Yellow Ring Hat and the White Bonus Ring Hat. The yellow hat appeared practically unworn; the white hat was a little crushed, but that had been apparent in the listing. And they were so cheap! I was the only one who bid on them.
Buoyed by that experience, I started trolling the Goodwill online auctions. It was about a week till Easter, and though I didn’t think about it, it was the prime buying time for hats. I found a black hat I really liked, and it had one cent shipping (with Goodwill hats, often the shipping costs as much as or more than the hat itself). I bid a few times, but was continually outbid. Since I couldn’t inspect the hat’s condition in person, I was unwilling to pay a premium.
I looked around again and found another cute hat with one cent shipping, this blue and purple hat. I put in a bid, hoping this hat would not be such a hot item.
Alas, someone did outbid me. I raised my bid, and fortunately, my second bid was enough to win the auction.
When the package arrived, I tore it open, then sat back, disappointed. The hat was a darker blue that it had appeared in the picture, was dusty, and worse, the feather shaft was almost broken—it was only holding together by the proverbial thread. The long part of the feather that emerged from the bow flapped with the slightest motion.
It stopped being an exciting new hat and became a project. I brushed the dust from the hat and dabbed it with a barely damp cloth. Then I went to work on the feather. I tried to delicately apply glue to the nearly severed part of the quill and succeeded only in breaking it off completely.
Once the feather was broken, the job actually became easier. I could line up the broken piece with the rest of the feather, apply glue, and shove it under the bow, hiding the mending job. (I meant to take a before picture of the repair but completely forgot). And though I worried about my repair, the feather didn’t fall off when I wore the hat to church.
This hat wasn’t my first choice, and was a bit of a project, but I ended up liking it quite a bit. Certainly I had nothing like it in my collection!
After I bought this hat, my husband said, “You could have a policy: for every new hat you buy, you get rid of a hat.”
I didn’t dignify that statement with an answer.
When I bought this hat, I thought I would wear it a lot. Like The Floppy Red Hat, it's a good hat for a cold but clear day, when you want your head warm but also need a bit of a sun shield. It was made by the same milliner who made The MVP Hat. At first, I wore this black velvet hat often, especially in colder conditions.
So, what happened? I made the mistake of wearing this hat at a particularly bad time of my life. I had tennis elbow in both arms and wore braces continually. My arms were weak and painful, and I wondered how much longer I could carry on working on a computer keyboard. One cool evening I wore this hat while doing yardwork. I was picking up the fruit that had fallen off our big Santa Rosa plum tree in our front yard.
We were buried in plums, unable to eat as many as we had, yet I still felt I had to bring them in the house, where the majority of them rotted on the counter before I could do anything with them. A miasma of fermenting fruit pervaded the house. The tree hung over the sidewalk, making a sticky, slippery mess. I raked up fruit and hosed off the cement so passersby wouldn't slip and fall. I lugged armloads of smelly, half-rotten plums in the garbage. My arms were killing me and I felt close to despair.
Of course, my situation improved. My arms got better with time and rest. A lady knocked on our door the following year and asked if she could trade flowers for our excess plums. She took them to make jam, and since she was a florist, gave me lilacs and gerbera daisies and Christmastime holly.
Yet, this hat still felt stained to me. Every time I looked at it, I remembered the dark time.
But when I started this blog, I said every hat.
I chose a particularly happy day to wear it again; a trip to the ocean with my visiting mother. And, we went to see sea otters, which I often do when feeling down. They are a sure-fire mood lifter. You can see them in the first picture, blurred out lumps in the ocean behind me.
So now I can look at this hat, remember otters, and smile. And, in case you need cheering up, here's an otter video I took that day.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and nonfiction and collects hats. In this blog she vows to wear (not just model, but wear out of the house) every one of her hats, blogging about their histories and their meanings for her.