Mom’s Many Hats

Mom’s Many Hats

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

Mom’s Many Hats

A child embarrassed by his mother
is just a child who hasn’t lived long enough.
~Mitch Albom,
For One More Day

Most mothers wear many hats. My mother, literally, had a closet full. And, to my great embarrassment, she wore them in public.

Mom adored hats of all kinds—the bolder the better. She had rows of tissue covered hats overflowing her closet and spilling onto attic shelves. Vibrant red straw peeked through one bundle, chocolate-colored felt from another, and an occasional ribbon or bow escaped the wrapping. Another child might have found Mom’s hat fancy intriguing or exciting. Not me. In the small Midwestern town where we lived, practical, plain clothing prevailed. My goal was to fit in. Mom had a flair for standing out.

One frigid winter in my tender junior high years, Mom and Dad came to a basketball game where I was a cheerleader. Parents streamed in the doors, unwinding knitted scarves and popping off woolen caps. They wrangled their way out of sturdy parkas and canvas farming jackets. The crowd was similar—bland and comforting. When my parents arrived, it wasn’t hard to spot them. Mom was sporting a white rabbit fur hat with a leather bill (and it was “Belgian rabbit! On sale even, from Esther Kirk Boutique!”). It snuggled on the top of her head like a woodland creature trying to beat the cold. I hid behind my pompoms, waiting for Mom to find a seat and remove her hat. Nope! Too chilly in the gym—the rabbit stayed in place all night.

A vacation photo memorializes Mom’s favorite summer hat. The picture was taken on a road trip west, and we are posed in a Nebraska wheat field. Mom is wearing an avocado-colored short set that looks earthy in contrast to the waving wheat at our knees. On her head, however, is a bright orange straw hat with a bill wide enough to slice your jugular if you got too close. In the picture, Dad is keeping his distance. That hat thwarted my goal that vacation, of “not looking like a tourist.” To this day, Mom sighs when she sees that photo, looks wistfully into space and murmurs, “I always loved that hat....”

Easter, as you can imagine, was the Academy Awards of hat exposure. One of Mom’s favorites had a high, hot pink crown, completely engulfed with magenta flowers placed every quarter of an inch. The flowers carpeted the entire hat. Glorious! That Easter marked Mom’s only attempt to pass on her hat obsession to my sister and me. She had purchased flower-encrusted headbands for us to wear. My sister and I remember that day as living proof that one’s brain can be perforated by headband spikes. We swear that blood pooled on our scalps underneath the celebratory flowers. On the upside, I only have vague memories of the obstruction that Mom’s hot pink extravaganza created in the pews that Sunday.

The mustard-colored English Bobbie hat was perhaps the most radical and surely the most embarrassing. Accented with leather braided cord, it exuded an authority that only a woman of confidence could pull off. Lucky for me, Mom was up to the challenge.

I did not inherit Mom’s flair for flaunting a fancy hat. I still, much like in junior high, prefer to fly under the radar. However, I have grown to appreciate Mom’s courage in wearing hats she loved, even if they elicited public stares or groans from her family. More importantly, I have received the powerful message of Mom’s action: Be yourself. Don’t worry what other people think. When people are looking at you, hold your head high. Even if there’s a rabbit on top of it.

~Gail Wilkinson

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