When I was in my 20’s, three women friends and I started taking each other out to celebrate our birthdays. We all worked together as technical writers at the same software company, and even when we went our separate ways professionally, we continued meeting.
One member was married, but the other three of us were single, and when we’d have dinner, we’d talk about the men we were dating. “Tell me if you think this is weird,” one of us would begin, and then describe what the latest guy was doing: brandishing a gun during a road rage incident, spending every weekend rock climbing instead of with his girlfriend, dismissing complaints that his cat made off with jewelry left on a nightstand. And the rest of us would confirm that yes, that was weird, or that yes, perhaps a person who behaved that way might not be the best partner for the long haul. It struck me even then how hesitant we were, as young women, to trust our own judgement. Women friends reassured us that our expectations weren't crazy.
Then, all within the same year, the remaining three of us got married (not to those oddly behaving men). We talked more about our jobs, about buying houses. About pets and growing kids. Two members started their own businesses. Two members went back to college for master’s degrees. And still we met four times a year to celebrate our friendship.
As the kids were moving on to college, our talk turned to the parents we were caring for as they aged or losing to their final illnesses. We also talked about our hobbies—concerts we performed in, books we read, vacations we took. At one point I mentioned that I had a huge hat collection, but seldom wore any of them anymore. “Wear one next time we get together,” they said. So I started wearing hats to some of our dinners.
First, I wore the Madame X Hat, though without a veil and embellished with a spray of silk flowers, my friends (all witnesses to that costume) probably didn’t realize it was the same hat.
Around this time, my writer friend Sheila offered me some hats that used to be her neighbor’s. At that point, I was trying to limit my hat collecting, so I only chose three, including the Gray Mini Top Hat and this cute brown hat. Like the gray hat, I chose this one for the shape—I don’t own another with this squared-off front.
The next time the four of us got together, I wore this brown hat. Because I’d never worn it before, when I wear it, it reminds me of my firends.
Three years ago, I left the Bay Area, where I’d lived my whole life, and moved three hours away. I can no longer attend many of our birthday gatherings, though I’ve made it to a couple. At first the move was very hard for me. I remember crying one day because I missed my friends so much. Seeing how sad I was, my husband offered to drive with me for the next birthday meal. We drove up in the morning, and he dropped me off so that I could have a nice long lunch catching up with them. Then, after lunch, we made the three hour drive back.
As I’ve settled into my new home, I make it to the Bay Area less often. I’m busier now with all my activities and the friends I’ve made since I moved. Still, there’s no one here who’s known me thirty years. No one who remembers helping each other through dating heartbreaks, going on trips together, dancing at each other’s weddings, consoling each other after a parent’s death. Hopefully I can make it to another gathering in the future, and we can once again talk as only old friends can.
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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.