Ruby loved to wear hats. All kinds. Fascinators like the Brits wore or full blown, big brimmed ones; it didn’t matter as long as it was a hat. Ruby never went out without a hat. To the grocery store, to the drugstore, to what used to be called five and dime stores, although nowadays they were more like five and ten dollar stores.
Ruby paraded her hats as if a member of the royal family and often, believe it or not, she received numerous compliments on each and every one. There was the big yellow hat with the three inch straw brim and the luscious water lily between brim and crown. That was a daytime hat. Then there was the sumptuous crimson red hat, a cloche so to speak, that framed a face that surely was beautiful in its day. Well rouged, she wore it toward dusk when the approaching sunset rays brought out the cornflower blue of her eyes and the blood red lipstick she still wore, even though most of the younger women had turned their eyes to the lighter pastel shades.
In the actual evening hours, she wore one of her most prized hats, the midnight black hat with the accompanying black vanity veil. Of course, since the death of her husband, years before, that hat was kept in a special hatbox tucked way back in her bedroom closet. There were many hatboxes buried in that closet but she rotated them on a regular basis, all except the box which treasured the nighttime black hat with the diamond holed matching veil.
She had another eccentric habit. Although each hat sported some sort of outrageous flower, she added to the adornment a brooch of matching color. She had so many brooches that no hat was left unfettered, no matter how simple the hat might be nor how insignificant it might appear to the innocent onlooker.
Her children, and she had two, a son and a daughter, thought her just a tad off, but they said nothing since that was the only vice their mother had and bearing in mind her age, it seemed harmless enough for them to worry about.
Whenever their mother visited, her grandchildren would love to try on their grandmother’s hats and strut around the house like a grown up lady themselves.
“Grandma,” they questioned, “Where did you get all these hats?”
“Why I’ve collected them through the years. When your grandfather was alive we traveled all over the world and I always made sure to buy a hat from each place we visited.”
And so, each hat had a story and Ruby always enjoyed telling her grandchildren from which country they came and how they were famous hats worn by the intelligenzia of each one. There was the fascinator from England, the beret from France, the plaid Scottish hat with the bright red pompom on its top, the silken tri-cornered hat with tassels hanging from it from China, and so on and so forth. And of course, there were the annual purchase of Easter bonnets to wear up and down Fifth Avenue when the Easter parade was still in vogue. Many of them were adorned with bunches of multicolored fruits like cherries and the like and tied just under the neck with a lovely grosgrain ribbon.
The years continued by and soon Ruby went out less and less, but she didn’t forget about her hats and when her grandchildren came to visit, she would whip one out and wear it even though all she was wearing was a colorful housedress. But she always remembered to put rouge on when she knew they were coming. After all, a proper woman had to rouge her cheeks, didn’t she? And she added the bright red lipstick to make her outfit complete. She knew her children laughed silently to themselves, but the grandchildren loved their grandmother and never thought it strange when she greeted them as such at the door.
Her neighbors thought her odd, but then Ruby had always been rather odd and took no notice of anyone who looked at her with that strange look she had come to recognize on their smiling faces. She paid them no mind because at the end of the day, she had her hats and they did not.
Other than her children, Ruby had no other relatives. All her friends and acquaintances had gone on to a better place. So Ruby marched forward knowing her day would also come, but, oh, how she would be ready. She had written a note to her children, to be opened upon her demise, instructing them which hat was to be used on that day. It would be her special raven black hat with the matching veil.
Ruby had no real possessions to speak of and her children expected nothing in the way of an inheritance when her time came. Yes, there were miscellaneous collections of Wedgewood (which her children did not know the value of) and the crystal from Ireland which was worth its weight in coin, and that famous collection of dolls from all over the world that she showed her grandchildren, often rattling off each country they were from, but she never mentioned the hat collection.
But there was something else in the letter and the children were quite unprepared for this tidbit of news. So, when Ruby joined her husband and her friends (in that better place) no one could have been more surprised than her children that the eccentric Ruby’s collection of worldly hats’ brooches were crafted of pure 18kt gold with the finest of jewels, all bought on her trips abroad. Now that was an inheritance to be proud of.