Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ladies With Hats

I have been volunteering at the local history museum, a repository of bits and pieces of the lives of Kentites past and present. I have been scanning scrapbooks, with the idea of reducing the vast amounts of paper materials in order to save space in the building. The actual scrapbooks will be moved to a vault at one of the banks whose director is on the board of the historical society. Some of these scrapbooks contain some wonderful pictures and stories from the 19th century and I love to read the flowery language of the newspaper accounts of engagements, marriages and deaths of people whose names live on in streets, buildings and neighborhoods. One of my favorites was from one of the fraternal organizations, the name of which I shall omit for the fol owing reason: the scrapbook contains photographs of prominent citizens in black face performing in a minstrel show put on by the organization as recently as the 1950s. Hey, it's part of the town's history!

My most recent scanning job involved the Women's Club Scrapbook from 1955-56. There were dozens of pictures of ladies in hats. This reminded me of my mother. When she was very old, retired from all of her many community activities and feeling useless, I spent a week-end collecting her many newspaper clippings and putting them all together in a scrapbook. For many of her grandchildren, who only knew her as an old lady, this scrapbook became an eye-opener. It also became on opportunity for her to look back on her life as a busy community activist. All the many pictures were of her with other women, all wearing hats and perusing documents, or tea tables or receiving plaques for work in community organizations. She was one of those women who ran things: the United Way, the local symphony, the Red Cross, the hospital volunteers, the Girl Scouts, Catholic Charities, etc., etc. She also really loved hats.

She was sure that when my father retired he would join her in these interests, but he preferred to stay home, read and listen to music and wait 'til the sun was over the yardarm for a bourbon and branch water. He complained that she should be getting paid for all that work. And she had to get used to his asking her where she was going and how long she would be gone, until she could no longer manage to drive. At that point, in her 80s, she volunteered to call "poor old people" to make sure they were all right. They were mostly younger than she.

I have not followed in her footsteps. Who could? I don't wear hats.
(That's herself on the left above. Terrible picture.)

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