Mad Hatter

I loved Sundays. Everyone in our farm house bustled around getting ready to attend Mass. Those of us who didn’t do barn chores had to be out of the bathroom by the time Daddy and my brother Billy were ready to use it. Mom had me dress first. It felt nice to be wearing my best clothing and have my usually tangled hair neatly combed.

Sitting quietly on the davenport, I waited, watched and listened. My sisters were bickering over something. The shirt one of my brothers planning to wear was in the laundry basket, so Mom quickly ironed his other nice shirt.

When Daddy came out of the bathroom he had a bit of toilet paper stuck to his chin where he’d nicked himself while shaving. Betty flounced into the room with her full skirt and sat down. Mary rummaged in the hall closet for shoe polish. Daddy, Billy and Casper were the first ones ready to go.

Instead of taking care of herself, Mom spent most of the morning doing last minute things for Daddy and her seven children. Most Sunday mornings she was the last person to be ready.

There was one final preparation for attending Mass. Women had to wear something on their heads in church. For the weekday school Masses, girls wore scarves tied under our chins, but on Sundays we wore hats to church. I put on a small, ruffled curvette. Mary donned a big flower trimmed bucket style. Mom put on the new black hat she’d bought a few days before. Daddy glanced at her and witlessly commented, “Where’re the hounds and horses?”

Obviously upset, Mom spoke louder than usual. She exclaimed, “You don’t like my hat! What’s wrong with it?”

Back peddling, Daddy soothed, “Nothing’s wrong with it. It’s fine. You look very nice.” It was too late. The hat was a goner. With fewer than six words, he’d irreparably damaged Mom’s latest millenary.

My mother loved hats. She bought them as frequently as she could. Daddy was lovingly tolerant of her penchant for such things. He usually complemented her latest style. There were times, though, that an unusually designed hat startled a thoughtless comment out of him.

Six months later, on a cold, snowy Sunday morning, it happened again. This time Mom’s new hat was a tall, black pill box with feathers curled in circles on the front. Daddy blurted, “You look like an owl.”

“An owl?” Mom squeaked indignantly. “How can you say something like that? This is a beautiful hat!” Although damaged, the hat stayed on her head. We had to get moving if we were to arrive at church on time. A blizzard was bearing down on Central Wisconsin and the roads were already starting to drift over. Visibility was poor, but we arrived at church on time.

An hour later after Mass, we headed home. The storm had worsened. Heavy snowfall and gale-force winds made it hard to see. Deep drifts tugged at our heavy family car as Daddy guided it along where he thought the road should be. Our luck ran out as we approached the driveway to our farm. Trees along the road had caused huge drifts to form. Our sturdy old car wasn’t able to buck through them.

Mom said, “Thank heavens we’re this close to home. We can walk the rest of the way.” We didn’t have far to go, but it wasn’t easy. The wind buffeted us, the depth of snow made each step feel as if we were climbing a mountain. A thick curtain of swirling snow made the house look like a shadow.

We hadn’t gone far before an extra strong gust of wind tore the stylish black hat off Mom’s head. I watched the circular hat roll away down the ditch, with Billy and Casper scrambling through the deep snow in hot pursuit. Mom peevishly yelled, “Let it go. Daddy thinks I look like an owl in it any way.” I remember that the hat was eventually captured.

Mom was angered when Daddy inadvertently insulted her choice of hats, but she never held a grudge. However, she couldn’t bring herself to wear them again after they were ridiculed, so the poor, maligned hats spent the rest of their lives sitting neglected on a shelf in Mom’s closet.








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