This morning while I was doing my stroll through some of my favorite blogs, I was nudged onto Memory Lane. You all know how much I enjoy my strolls down Memory Lane. Kathryn Stripling Byer, who has served as North Carolina's poet laureate since 2005 writes the "Here, Where I Am" blog which is always full of lovely words and images and is one of my favorite spots. This morning she's bemoaning hats. Not those fabulous hats a lot of us love, but the uncomfortable little, practically pinned to our heads, prissy hats sprouting feathers, fruit, or stiff netting that many of us were forced to wear to church when we were little girls. And she has the beginnings of a poem she's writing about said hats. Drop by and spend a little time with Ms. Byer - she's a dream. And I'm hoping she doesn't mind me "borrowing" her brilliant idea to blog about hats.
Somehow from those forced hat wearing episodes Ms. Byer talks about, I grew to have a major love affair with hats. It may have something to do with family. Apparently, the Wilkinson women liked hats - as shown here by my Great Aunt Sadie, and my paternal grandmother, Laura Street Wilkinson.
Unfortunately, the days of fun and sassy and outrageous hats passed me by. Most of us don't live the type of lifestyle that we can get away with wearing the types of hats I have in mind. Those are works of art you see at Ascot.
Hats are fun. They're supposed to be fun. And as far as I know, no one has been hurt by a hat.
Some are, perhaps, a little much , but still - I don't think they can hurt you.
Ascot, however, was not a part of my Memory Lane.
But weddings were. And hats were just made for weddings!! First girlfriend weddings and cousin weddings, then came their childrens' weddings. While we're waiting for their grandchildren to get married, I'm in a hat lull, so instead of buying and wearing a new hat, I'll have to content myself by reading and writing about them. And maybe going back to watch Aretha so proudly wearing her hat at The Inauguration. i do love that hat.
Hats were my treat to myself whenever we went to a wedding. A lot of times I might be the only person there wearing a hat. Not always, but often. Until we went to the wedding of our friends James and Melody. This was our first experience at an African American wedding. And oh my - had I not worn a hat to this wedding, I would have been sadly under dressed. The wedding was perfect. The bride and groom were both gorgeous. The service was moving, emotional and joyful. Every detail of both wedding and reception were attended to with loving perfection by mothers and family members, and every guest attended to with the same loving attention. I will remember that wedding as a high point in my life.
Ironically, shortly after James and Melody's wedding I ran across a book that I had to have and which will forever remind me of this glorious day. It's called "Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats" by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry.
Marberry had this to say, "I think it's because it's rooted in the African tradition that says that when one presents oneself before God… that you should be at your best –- that you should present excellence before the Almighty." And that tradition of adorning the head for worship is a very African tradition."
"Crowns" is a stunning book. And it's much more. It delves quite deeply into a history that we must never ever allow be forgotten. or allow to ever happen again. Whenever I, for example, pranced into the lovely and grand Downtown Rich's Department Store in Atlanta to buy myself a new hat whenever I wanted, never once did I give a thought to the fact that there had been a time when a black woman could not do this. This simple act that gave me such joy. Other women were unable to do. In that regard, "Crowns" becomes a history book. But one written in the words of women who are able to find humor in their situation regarding hats. Nancy Carpenter tells us about a department store in North Carolina where she wasn't allowed to shop. After some years passed, and Mrs. Carpenter became the owner of many hats, some quite spectacular, she was able to realize that the store's hats really weren't so special - it was the fact that she couldn't own one that, of course, caused her to want to own at least one of them that much more. Fact of the matter was though - the hats Mrs. Carpenter ended up owning, she says, were more beautiful than anything that store ever carried. And, she ended up owning more than they more than likely ever carried at one time.
"Listen, never touch my hat! Admire it from a distance. Those are the hat queen rules, honey."
-Peggy Knox, child care provider
"You can flirt with a fan in your hand. You can flirt holding a cigarette, too. But a woman can really flirt with a hat." -Dolores Foster, real estate agent (retired)
And, my favorite hat ever? The one I wore to my own wedding. May 11, 1986.