Any Hats in Your History?

Little Mennonite girls could be fancy before they became plain. They could wear hats. Their mothers may have worn flat, black bonnets on top of their prayer veilings (coverings) at Easter, but they couldn’t wear hats with ribbons and flowers. At least not in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the 1950s.

My sisters and I are standing here in front of peony bushes wearing some cast-off hats Grandma Longenecker’s friend, Mame Goss, brought from a millinery shop in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

Marian, Jean, and Janice in front of the peony bushes
Marian, Jean, and Janice in front of the peony bushes

I recall this scene through the lens of memory:

I’m looking now at a snapshot my mother took of my sisters and me in these hats, the three of us holding hands in front of a peony bed. The magenta peonies are in bloom, so it must have been May. The double whites mingled among them have ruby flecks in their ruffled centers. My sister Janice, three years younger, is standing at one end, with blonde hair fluffed into curls, hands obediently at her side. Jeanie, a tiny tot of two or three, appears to be looking down at the grass, her burst of tulle brushing light brown hair. I’m staring straight at the camera, two thick braids trailing down my back. Our dresses are all bedecked with ruffles and bows, embroidery or smocking, dresses surely made by our plain Mennonite mother.

I wore my first adult hat ever, a pale blue clôche with a blue chiffon dress one spring when Cliff and I were dating.

At Crista’s 5th birthday party I was wearing a knitted skull-tight cap, typical of the 1970s.

Hat1977redStocking

In the 1990s I bought a white hat trimmed in black ribbon and feathers, probably for Easter. I don’t wear hats anymore. I have already taken this one to Angel Aid, a charity for mothers and children.

Hat1999KillarneySteps

My sister Jan and I wore British-style hats to Downton Abbey events sponsored by our PBS station in Jacksonville, Florida. Each of our hats adorned with feathers, a flower and seed pearls cost $ 5.00 at Roots’ Country Market near Manheim, PA. We didn’t tell anyone at the gala how much our gorgeous hats cost.

JanMarianDownton

Sisters with friend Carolyn Stoner
Sisters with friend Carolyn Stoner with her fascinator hat in black and green

Hats have mostly gone out of fashion in recent decades, except among the trendy young. NAACP leader Roslyn Brock makes a style statement with her wardrobe of about 200 fashionable hats, expressing her love for her Grandmother Leona Pittman who “believed a woman was not properly dressed for church without one.” Brock emphasizes that

I’m following in the legacy of female civil rights leaders who completed their Sunday go-to-meeting clothes with fashionable hats.

 

Hats are the centerpiece of Roslyn’s wardrobe. She admits that she’ll buy the hat first and then find a matching suit or shoes. For Roslyn, who enjoys couture creations from Philip Treacy, Queen Elizabeth’s designer, wearing hats “keeps our history and culture alive.”

How a hat makes you feel is what a hat is all about.  ~ Philip Treacy

HatAARPrarticle

 

In June it will be two years since my mother died unexpectedly. I still miss her terribly. Grief occasionally comes over me in waves. Now less often, with less severe impact. Still . . .

On my dresser I have kept three mementoes of Mother, one on top of the other: the two-quart Ball jar with bubbles in the glass, emblematic of her love of cooking and canning. And her last Mennonite black bonnet and white prayer covering veiling made of bobbinet fabric, a see-through, hexagonal mesh. Symbols of her constant faith and hope in God, each piece of headgear is less than half the size of those she wore in her youth.

CoverBonnetMOM

Any hats in your history?

What did it look like? Where did you wear it? Do you still wear a hat? Comments are warmly welcomed. Don’t be shy.

Coming next: What Lights Your Fire?

Hats Off to Dad!

My father wore many hats. Work hats mostly, but also a goofy blue derby hat I faintly remember stashed high up on a closet shelf, and a fedora reserved for Sundays or other special occasions. Through his long history at the shop, Daddy sold a wide array of tractor brands which supplied him with hats embroidered with their company logo: Massey-Harris, Minneapolis Moline, New Idea, Fox, and Deutz.

His hats changed with his loyalty to the brand of farm equipment he was promoting. None made him happier, however, than the hat he wore with one of his first purchases after his father, Henry R. Longenecker, passed the business on to him. With the tag still attached to the grill, Daddy proudly drove the new Massey-Harris tractor back and forth in the alley next to the shop in Rheems, his sister Aunt Ruthie recording the spectacle with her new 16 mm movie camera.

Shop Hats

The Welding Helmet Invented by the German Hans Goldschmidt in 1903, welding was one of my Dad’s specialties, a boon to farmers with harvester units or even plow shares needing repair. A free-standing acetylene cylinder and oxygen tank for welding stood near one of the double wooden doors. This allowed easy access for welding repairs as a tractor or harvesting equipment was pulled through the giant, wheeled doors that ran back and forth on a metal channel.

I watched Daddy slap a Darth Vader-like helmet on his head, don long, flared-sleeve gloves, and use long, skinny welding rods to fuse broken parts together. Sparks flew everywhere in this Fourth of July fireworks show extending into August, the height of the harvesting season.

Along the back of the dark recesses of the shop was a large grinding machine that could sharpen a 6 to 8-foot section of blade used for scissoring hay, wheat or barley.

Daddy did most of his work in his shop but occasionally he was called to the field. A doctor of motors, he made “house” calls to the fields of anxious farmers, work stalled with broken-down equipment.

Farm Hats

My father was first of all a farm implement dealer and mechanic, but he also farmed ten acres of land in Bainbridge, Pennsylvania combining corn and tobacco crops and then later corn with tomatoes. Farming is serious business in the searing sun requiring a cap with a long bill. The result:  a white “farmer” forehead and red-brown cheeks and arms. My mother and Aunt Ruthie often wore sun bonnets, in the field but as you can see, we were bare-headed and probably bare-footed too.

Brand new tractor with tiny sister Jean and me behind the wheel
Cultivating land for tomato crop in Bainbridge
Cultivating land for tomato crop in Bainbridge

A beekeeper too, my dad wore a bulky hat complete with a mesh veil to smoke out the bees.

 

Fancy Hats

Church, weddings, funerals – all were occasions for a fancy fedora. But one occasion in particular required dressing up: posing on the steps of the U. S. Capitol building ready to meet with congressmen regarding the threat of a proposed air base to some of the rich farmland of northern Lancaster County. A sizable delegation of plain people (many of them Mennonites) including my dad in his fedora and Grandma drove to Washington D.C. to make their case with government officials. When a follow-up investigation was conducted, sink-holes had reportedly been found in the farm-land around Bossler’s Mennonite Church. The case was subsequently closed.

Sadie Greider, Grandma Fannie Longenecker and Ray Longenecker  on steps of the Capitol in Washington, D. C.
Sadie Greider, Grandma Fannie Longenecker and Ray Longenecker on steps of the Capitol in Washington, D. C.

Tell us about your dad’s hats – what he wore, or any other “Dad” memory you want to share now.

2 Easter Vignettes: Sacred and Sentimental

* Poem for Easter – British poet George Herbert loved to explore the soul’s inner architecture. He often wrote poems with shapes representing a theme, the resurrection in this case. The poetic lines, “increasing and decreasing to imitate flight,” also mimic the spiritual experience of rising and falling.

Easter WingsVertical_poem_4x5_300

Then viewed vertically the poem displays images of two butterflies, symbols of new life: Emblem poetry (technopaegnia) printed in a shape that reflects the subject of the poem.

Manuscript from the Bodleian Collection, Oxford University, 1633
Manuscript from the Bodleian Collection, Oxford University, 1633

Since by long centuries of custom the date of Easter is annually determined from the first Sunday after the full moon on or after March 21, the intertwining of physical and spiritual seasons is virtually inevitable.

Wisdom in Waiting: Spring’s Sacred Days by Phyllis Tickle

* Easter parade at Rheems Elementary School

My Mennonite school teacher, Miss Ruth Longenecker, was an artist. Though she dressed plainly with hair in a bun and a standard regulation prayer covering, her life brimmed with color, design, and pageantry. She painted in oils, preserving the old sycamore tree by the bridge at the old Martin home place on canvas:

Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker
Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm       Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker

In her classroom at Christmas time was a tall tree laden with brilliant bulbs and glistening tinsel at school, though Mennonites were discouraged from having worldly Christmas trees at home. For St. Patrick’s Day, my classmates and I wore Derby hats and huge green shamrocks. But Easter was a real blow-out. Students brought hats and silky flowers from home to add to the creative collection (pasted, stapled, sewed). We paraded up and down the village streets near Rheems Elementary School, our teacher preserving the frivolity on her 16 mm movie film. Even the boys wore hats, some even more flower-encrusted than the girls.

Hand-made millinery on display at Rheems Elementary School
Hand-made millinery on display at Rheems Elementary School

Thank you for commenting. You can count on me to reply.

The conversation continues . . . .

Coming Monday: Guest post on Mary Gottschalk’s blog: Flying the Coop: Leaving Mennonite Land

The Red Hat Society: A Different Chapter

Red hats, purple dresses, feather boas — all signatures of the Red Hat Society. There is even a Queen Mother, Sue Ellen Cooper of Orange County, California, who founded the Society in 1998 after she hosted a fancy tea party for ladies decked out in purple and red. Since then, Cooper has written two best-sellers about her Society, which has spawned thousands of chapters of women with “hattitude” nationwide.

"When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple / With a red hat . . . !"
“When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple / With a red hat . . . !”

My sisters and I had our own Red Hat Lady, my plain Grandma Longenecker’s fancy cousin, Mame Goss, who brought picked-over hats of all colors to us from a millinery shop where she worked in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Getting hats from Mame was heady stuff! She was a main character in the script of our youthful play-acting.

Mame is one step closer to revealing the treasures in her bag now. Soon we lay eyes on the partly smashed trousseau of hats, left over from the spring season. We fight over who gets what, of course.

* * *

“Here’s a straw hat with a polka dot bow, “ I say but cast it aside. Janice and Jean don’t pick it up either. They are eying the red satin bows and lavender netting attached to other headgear.

* * *

“Hey, I want this one,” Janice and Jean tussle over a swoopy hat with pink flowers. Jean finally picks up a white thing that looks like an upside-down, flat-bottomed boat with a wad of blue tulle tied in a fluffy bow in the back. Janice’s is flat and round and dark, not my taste, with black-eyed Susan circling the straw hat. I get the best hat, I believe. It is flat and round too, but navy, and studded with azalea pink silk flowers around the edges. Best of all, I can pull a dark blue net over my face. Instantly, I become a woman of mystery and allure.

* * *

We take our newly-found treasures up to Grandma’s bedroom and indulge in more fantasy. The space between her marble-topped vanity and tall headboard becomes our runway. We take turns prancing in front of her vanity mirror with wavy glass, cocking our heads just so and smiling at our reflections.

One day Auntie Mame brings another batch of hats. When I spy the red felt with broad brim, I know it is mine. Our catwalk this time is not the narrow confines of Grandma’s bedroom, but the front lawn along Harrisburg Avenue: Marian, Janice, and Jean preen for the camera this time. Soon enough we will stuff our hair under a prayer veiling, but until then, we’re fancy girls!

Home movie from the 1950s

Do you remember playing dress up as a kid? What were your costumes? Inquiring minds want to hear your story. 

Hats, Fire and Ice

The dusty, brown Pennsylvania Railroad train clatters along the tracks behind the woods as we approach Grandma’s house. Mame Goss, Grandma’s cousin, sits close to the bay window with a bag of hats. I notice her merry eyes and smile lines, but Mother comments on her wrinkled skin, skin made so by too much makeup.  Mame’ll let my sisters and me see inside the bag, but not before she chats with Grandma over a cup of garden mint tea. Mame Goss clerks in Laverty’s Millinery Shop, a store I’ve never seen but which shimmers with forbidden delights in my mind, nonetheless.

TeacupHorizontalJanice, Jean, and I think our older girl neighbors are allowed to express themselves properly. When I go down to see “Howdy Doody” on the Rentzels’ TV (Mennonites didn’t have TVs back then), I notice that Sissy Rentzel has a parade of nail polish bottles lined up on the windowsill of her bedroom: bright red, baby pink, orangey red with Tangee lipstick to match, darker red, hot pink, and a bottle of clear polish like Karo syrup. I’d love to experiment with what’s inside, but I don’t now. I feel uncomfortable asking Sissy Rentzel to try some.

TangeeLipstickAd

Anna Martha Groff, Sis Groff to us, is another story. And she is so grown-up, we think. I see her palette of lipsticks on her vanity table, one of them Revlon’s Fire and Ice. She’ll probably let me try some on. I could become a siren in red or an ice princess. So I experiment and cavort around in her bedroom with the painted lips of a hussy. Soon I’ll have to rub off the evidence with tissue before I go home and hope nobody, especially Mom, notices. My sisters and I are crazy for color. Out by the rose bushes in summer, we paste bright, velvety petals to our lips. Banned from the world of bright lipstick and matching nail polish, we improvise with natural blooms. We act silly.

LipsCropped

We’re back in Grandma’s kitchen again. Mame is one step closer to revealing the treasures in her bag now. Soon we lay eyes on the partly smashed trousseau of hats, left over from the spring season. We fight over who gets what, of course.

“Here’s a straw hat with a polka dot bow, “ I say but cast it aside. Janice and Jean don’t pick it up either. They are eying the red satin bows and lavender netting attached to other headgear.

“Hey, I want this one,” Janice and Jean tussle over a swoopy hat with pink flowers. Jean finally picks up a white thing that looks like an upside-down, flat-bottomed boat with a wad of blue tulle tied in a fluffy bow in the back. Janice’s is flat and round and dark, not my taste, with black-eyed Susan circling the straw hat. I get the best hat, I believe. It is flat and round too, but navy, and studded with azalea pink silk flowers around the edges. Best of all, I can pull a dark blue net over my face. Instantly, I become a woman of mystery and allure.

We take our new-found treasures up to Grandma’s bedroom and indulge in more fantasy. The space between her marble-topped vanity and tall headboard becomes our runway. We take turns prancing in front of her vanity mirror with wavy glass, cocking our heads just so and smiling at our reflections.

GrandmaVanity      GrandmaHeadboard_mod_180

Later back at our house, Mom takes a picture of us in front of the garden of peonies and zinnias in the back yard. She holds the black square Kodak camera firmly with fingers plump as the butter she loves. I stare at her blue and white checked feed-bag apron over a matching home-made dress, so I don’t blink. In an instant, the shutter freezes our fashionable images at ages 3, 5, and 8. There’s plenty of time later to coax our long braids into the Mennonite style, pinned tightly to our heads with black wire hairpins.

GossHats

Like this post? Follow my blog and get many more free of charge! Just type in your email address at the top of the page and click “subscribe!” WordPress keeps your email address private.