The Hat

Here’s one of my favorite stories about my mother.  I want to share it yet again in time for Mother’s Day.

S: When I was a child I realized that my mother was unlike anyone else’s.  She was as unique as her name, Glennibel.  Her persona was one of complete indifference to current fashion and acceptability.  She loved floral prints and bright colors, dresses with full skirts, accessorized with beads and wide shiny belts.  But most of all she loved her hats; she wore one everywhere, summer and winter.  And of all her hats only one stands out in my mind, a Mexican sombrero, a gift from a well-meaning traveler.  It was made of yellow straw and had red stripes along the brim.  The hat was huge.  It towered high into a point.  No one north of the Rio Grande ever wore such a hat.  For the next two summers, every time Mom went out the door the hat went along, balanced atop her head like a great mountain.  Our disdain for the hat made no difference to her.  She simply stated “This is the most comfortable hat I have ever owned.  It keeps me cool; like having a beach umbrella on my head.”  Who could argue?

As a teenager I was humiliated by such a blatant display of ‘I don’t care what people think of me’ and I kept my association with my family and the hat to a minimum, but one summer day in ’69 still stands out in my mind.
I crouched in the back of our Chevy station wagon, along with my sisters, Rita and Lucy, and our friend, Darlene, as we sped down US 52 into Indiana towards Versailles State Park.  Grandma Hawke, my mother’s mother, sat in front with Mom, Dad, and the hat, which was so tall it had to be held in Mom’s lap.

Grandma had come to live with us the year before.  She had Alzheimer’s and was in a constant state of confusion.  She had stopped brushing her hair completely and would not allow anyone to get near enough to untangle the great white Afro, which floated about her head; thus we affectionately dubbed her White Cloud.

Upon arrival at Versailles Lake, we – the teenage group – found a spot on the beach, laid out our blanket, and turned on our transistor radio, settling in to scope out the boys.  From our spot we could see the slow parade descending to the beach  – the great yellow hat shining in the sun like a neon sign, White Cloud, with her thin cotton dress and long pendulous breasts taking tiny baby steps while holding onto my dad’s arm, whose 46-inch waist dwarfed his 5’ 9″ frame.  He needed his tree trunk legs to keep from rolling down the hill.  Gloria and Teresa, two little skinny blond girls, the babies of our family, skipped ahead of the trio, hurrying to the water.  We watched in silence as Mom found a shady spot where she could sit with Grandma, while my Dad continued on to the water following his daughters.

There was no way we wanted to be associated with the Adams Family, but our conscious got the best of us.  We knew Mom loved to swim but she was doomed to sit with her mother the whole day.  So we picked up our stuff and relocated, right next to her and White Cloud.

“Mom we’ll sit here with Grandma while you swim, we’re not going in yet.”  She graciously accepted and left to join the others.  This wasn’t all bad; Grandma was so out of it we could light up our cigarettes with no consequence.  The only problem was Grandma put a crimp in our ‘boy watching’.  So we settled for the next best thing, and watched Mom instead.

She moved into the water hands skimming the surface.  She never put her head under or dived in like Daddy and she always kept her hat and sunglasses on when she swam.  She would wade out and magically float away, doing the sidestroke, arms under the water paddling effortlessly, legs scissoring behind, propelling her forward.  Mom never tired when she swam; so little energy was expelled that she actually relaxed in the water.  She was serene, at peace.  Swimming was her comfort food.  We could see the great yellow hat floating like a buoy in the deep water and we were proud of her.  ‘That’s my Mom’ we said to anyone who would listen.  We no longer cared about the hat.

And just in case you think I’m exaggerating, I’m posting a photo of Glennibel and the HAT.

Glennibell-hat

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