The Plain Gray Hat

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Remnants of a once vast collection. + one Argentinian fan.

Hats. I love’em. I used to collect them. Vintage hats in particular, but the random, really great baseball hat, here and there, too. Then I moved into a very small two bedroom/one bath bungalow with my boyfriend (now husband) and at some point, I could no longer justify the space needed to maintain a 100-200 piece hat collection.

So, on New Year’s Eve, I found out the party I was attending that night at my friend Cass’ house required hats. As in, “you need to bring funny hats.” THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER THROW ANYTHING OUT. I had hundreds of the perfect hat. I knew I would need those, even if it was 16 years down the road. Damn it.

Todd reminded me that I still had a few in a storage box in the basement. (I admit that it is also true that you kind of forget what things you have when you keep them in storage and you don’t really miss them.) I rummaged around in the basement and found the box. I opened it. I smiled involuntarily. I couldn’t help it.

Those hats.

I do remember when we moved and I put the rest of them into storage, I kept the “prettiest” one out and put it on our new shelves in the basement, along with many hardback books, photos, some artwork we’ve collected over the years, a collection of hammer heads and figurines that belonged to my grandfather, my old camera collection, and my pottery. (That stuff could be a post of its own.) The hat originally belonged to my Aunt Lessie, who was both an occasional Goat Man, and a very fashionable woman of Savannah. She also forever remains ingrained in my memory for insisting on going swimming at our neighborhood pool with us when I was probably 12 or so. She actually brought her own bathing suit. God, I wish I had that still – probably 1960s! She wore it with her swimming cap, also vintage, a plastic number with plastic flowers on it. She was well into her 70s by this point, and I think my Dad almost had a heart attack when she insisted on going off the diving board. 12-year-old me thought she was a badass. I still do.

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Aunt Lessie’s vintage hat that sits on a downstairs shelf.

She and Grandma seemed to buy many of their hats at Savannah’s Glendale hat shop. Most of their hats had the Glendale label sewn inside them.

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I love the internet. This postcard, part of the Library of Boston archives, was issued approximately 1930-1945.

Um, I guess I should admit that I also collect some postcards, but only of places that any line of my ancestors lived. (If you are interested in Georgia postcards, you can see the rest of that library’s archived Georgia postcard collection here.) I later ended up with these Aunt Lessie hats and about 10 others, plus Lisa and I split all of my grandmother Palmer’s hats. These are the only ones I kept.

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Two of my Aunt Lessie’s hats: The one on the left is Italian, and the one on the right is a weird, stiff material, with plastic flowers. I always loved the way it fit, although now I would probably not wear it often. For one thing, it looked better with my hair dyed black. I used to wear it with vintage dresses and Dad would call me Minnie Pearl.

 

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I did not inherit this hat (or her others) until after she died, but seeing photos of my grandmothers and Aunt Lessie wearing hats fueled my love for hats very early on.

My hat collection, though, really started one fateful day in Little Five Points. I believe I was skipping school that day, although I can’t quite remember the details. I was there with my friends Jenni, John, and. . .one other person, but I cannot for the life of me remember who it was. Time makes things foggy. I bought this one at a vintage store. Or it might have been Junkman’s Daughter when it was over near where Criminal Records is now. Again, fogginess.

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Forest green beret with velvet bow.

Oh, how I loved this hat. I know exactly why; If you are a girl of the eighties, the hat with a bow might ring a bell for you, too.

In middle school, when that video came out, I wanted a hat just like Madonna’s. The green beret with the velvet bow was as close as I ever got. Side note: This hat was later hijacked for at least a year by my boyfriend at the time, who wore it liberally. He also wore eyeliner, because it was 1990. My Dad loved that I was in love with a boy who wore hats with velvet bows, and eyeliner. (And he was a Yankee, no less.)

My mom must have picked up on this new obsession, because she gave me the following hat for Christmas one year when I was in high school. (Jason B. Vat 69! And the pink cassette player from middle school. Lisa, why do we not have that any longer? It was awesome.)

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Me, wearing a hat from my mom. Christmas of my Junior or Senior year, I guess? That’s Pop sitting over to the side, wearing his signature goat man outfit.

So, over the years, I collected more and more of them. Vintage stores, yard sales, estate sales. It probably got out of hand, but if you ever loved collecting, you know how that happens. I had so many people start bringing them to me, because they knew how much I loved them. Here’s a not-so-great photo of my room at home one Summer.

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I used to have a protruding clavicle!

I must have really chopped my hair and it looks like it was black at this point. (I cannot even begin to remember what it was like to have so much time on my hands that I would move home in the summer and decorate my room. Does not compute.)

I know it was college, because my sister is wearing a hat that I either stole from my friend Mike Maier, or let him draw on. I know that the artwork on the hat is his. I believe he also drew on some shoes I had, and definitely some jeans. See all the hats on the wall? They went all the way around the room, and it was not the whole collection. There are some on the bedpost over my shoulder, too. You can also see the very odd 1980s intercom system we had in our house (behind the lamp).

Side note: I had a different room in high school. My sister moved into it after I left for college and I took over her room, shown here. In my old room, I would unscrew the intercom faceplate from the wall, pull it out, hide contraband on the ledge inside with the wiring, then replace the plate and screw it back into the wall. I struggle to see how my children will ever pull anything over on Todd or me.

Remember the boy with the eyeliner and the beret?  Here is a hat he gave me for Christmas the first year we were together. We were Freshmen at UGA at that point. It was a beautiful gift. (Another beautiful gift, in the background, is the fan and silver stand that my husband brought me from Argentina a few years ago. I have a habit of picking men who are more thoughtful than I am. Opposites attract, I suppose.)

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I adored this hat and yes, I kept it all these years, despite the fact that it was too small for my large head. I just loved it. I love it still.
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Side note: It was never lost on me that the boyfriend’s purchase, while acknowledging my love of hats, was also a nod to his obsession with Perry Farrell. I mean, come on.

There was one more hat in the box.

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The gray hat.

It is not beautiful. I don’t remember buying it or someone giving it to me, although someone must have. I do remember it being a staple of my wardrobe in college, though. I wore it almost daily, backwards (the 90s, yo), and I think that it’s functionality was the reason that I wore it so much. It was lightweight enough to wear in Summer and I didn’t care if it got messed up, so I wore it while I worked at The Grill, where every time you went home and you smelled like hamburgers and french fries (with feta) and grease. At one point, I lived in a three bedroom house on Prince Ave. with my friend Mya and a rotating cast of characters, sometimes as many as 6 of us living there at one time. There was also a time when every roommate also worked at The Grill and our house completely smelled like The Grill. It makes me gag now, the thought of waking up hung over, or having to be at work at 11PM for a night shift, and unable to find clean uniforms. We’d just share dirty work shirts off the floor of our bedrooms. My bedroom one summer was actually a dining room. With a curtain to the living room and a swinging door to the kitchen. (It is amazing what you start remembering when you start typing.)

I wore that hat out.

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So, here I am, on the day before New Year’s 2016, and we are asked to wear hats to my friends’ NYE party, and I open that box, and I am flooded with memories of high school, college, music, and friends. Of being excited by things and people and culture and life. But it was that gray hat that struck me the hardest. It made me think of that first time in my life that my heart was broken, and I didn’t know yet that pain lessens over time, or that you don’t actually need other people, because either way things will be okay. I learned that, if you’re patient, things will get better. I learned how to be alone and how to get over things, and how to love myself, all around that period of time that I used to wear that hat.

When I saw it lying in the storage bin, I immediately thought of this photo of me in the hat, and my grandmother’s vintage coat (GOD, why do I get rid of things?) standing on the beach in Charleston. I was brokenhearted and had that awful feeling of wanting to run away, of fear, of not knowing I would be okay. I remember discussing it all with my friend Matt, a fellow insomniac who visited me quite often while I worked the night shift at the Grill. We made the decision to drive to Charleston as soon as I got off work at 7 a.m. We took my truck, a hand-me-down tan Nissan truck with a camper on the back that had belonged to my grandfather, with zero bells and whistles and which smelled like old dog farts, no matter what I did to alleviate the smell. We drove to Charleston and spent a cold day walking the streets, snapping photos, and then finding a cheap motel. And the next morning we drove out to the beach – Folly, I guess – and we had breakfast and then walked on the freezing beach. He took this picture without me knowing.

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The other thing I notice about this photo is that it very clearly shows my “old” nose, before the drunken face-first wall incident of my 21st birthday, or the “Memorial Day drunk driver hitting us head on in Florida on the way back from Brant and Melissa’s wedding” accident, both of which busted my nose and required surgery to fix. It looks pretty much the same now, but I can still tell the difference.

I still remember that morning on a Charleston beach, and the thoughts I was thinking, the things making me feel sad and overwhelmed. The feeling of not knowing what would happen. I was on a precipice. And it reminded me of the sadness and depression I felt just last year in 2015, on a different beach twenty-five years later, where I walked my dog at 7 a.m. on New Year’s Day, and snapped this photo of myself.

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There I was that morning, on another precipice, seemingly standing at the edge of the world. I was in a similar place: Not heartbroken, but sad, lost, frustrated, and wanting to run away from all of my confused feelings. The difference was that I had already been there once before. And I didn’t really run that first time, 25 years ago, even though I had the benefit of spontaneity, no responsibilities, and a road trip. I came back from Charleston to Athens, and I learned how to deal with feeling the things that I didn’t want to feel, and I learned that no matter what, I would be okay, because I loved myself and I could take care of myself. I learned that Everything would be okay.

And I learned it all while wearing one nondescript, really nasty, trashed gray hat.

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8 Responses to “The Plain Gray Hat”

  1. Becky says:

    This is beautiful Anne.

  2. Dogwood Girl says:

    Thanks. I actually worked on it off and on all weekend and was going to post it this morning. (Well, original plan was Sunday morning, but. . . life.) And then the Bowie news, well, it didn’t seem like the time.

  3. Camille says:

    I love the perspective. Nice writing, Anne. Also, you reminded me that I once owned a dark green, velvet beret with a big black bow-very similar to the one you posted-except all velvet. I was wearing it the night I met Chris B and Michael Stipe. No idea what happened to that hat.

  4. Dogwood Girl says:

    I seem to recall you wearing that hat. . .

  5. Mike says:

    Wow. No idea you broke your nose so bad- twice. Most definitely remember drawing on army surplus hats- and the back of John’s guitar and other stuff. I love that photo of you on Folly (or wherever, but probably Folly – the Edge of America!). I feel like we all had that same sort of expression on our faces for several years around that time. Did you know I lived on the beach at Folly for a year? It is a really special place. Thanks for the story

  6. Dogwood Girl says:

    Well, Mike, I do share the story of the first break with close friends now. At the time, I just holed up and really only told a few people. I think Honey, Ryan, and maybe da crease were the only people that knew how bad everything got in general. It was pretty bad. Not half as bad as the blow to my self-esteem and dignity, though. Now I look back at it as kind of a school of hard knocks thing. A low point I got back up from. And the second time, I was 30 years old, and had been married only 2 weeks. I might have to dig up the photos from that. Scary, but they make for a good story.

    I do remember you were always drawing on things. Did you see the photos from about 5 or ten years ago when John came to visit? it was good to see him. Do y’all still talk? I love the photo on Folly, too. (At least, i think maybe it was Folly.) Taken by Matt Beatty. No idea what happened to that guy.

    That expression – I definitely grew more in about a two year period there than I have at any other time in my life except maybe after having Rollie. I think I do remember you living on Folly. It is special. And thanks for reading.

    I always hope people don’t mind that I write about them, but writing about my memories of times and people and places are my favorite things to write about. I can’t help myself.

  7. joel says:

    I just got a flood of flashbacks. I clearly remember the house on Prince Ave. and I remember the grey hat. I also recall being a nightmare to live with(I was going through my extended boy/man growing phase). You, on the other hand, were easy to get along with. Plus, you really knew how to cook artichokes. On one occasion, you showed me how to properly bathe a cat. Mya had the Toyota that leaked massive amounts of oil. There was also a house on the opposite side of the side street that we lived on; perhaps built in the first or second decades of the 20th century. It was a large two story with a beautiful interior, a full bathroom on the staircase landing and an actual well on the back, enclosed porch. I could be very wrong, but I remember a small barn or shed in the back of the lot, which had seemingly freshly plucked, white chicken feathers scattered about on the barn floor.
    Thank you very much for posting this!

  8. Dogwood Girl says:

    Ha, Joel, you were as much of a nightmare to live with as anyone else in the 18-25 year range. I am pretty sure I was not a bed of roses. The artichokes thing made me laugh. Microwaved artichokes, I assume. Out of a can, with salt and butter? I have zero recollection of bathing a cat together. White Trash, maybe?

    But oh, that house across the street. It was beautiful. I had forgotten about the well, though. Thanks for the memories!

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