I remember when I was living in Nashville: one afternoon the restaurant I was managing was inundated with a whole slew of older women, all of whom were wearing red hats. Most of them were dressed in purple as well. These women, I quickly discovered, were a part of the Red Hat Society. Much like the Ya-Yas, who had been captured in book and movie form, the Red Hats are a group of women who have hit the 50-year mark and are thriving. They certainly were a lively bunch, but I ended up becoming their new BFF, as we discussed everything from the flowers they were planting to the recipe for the restaurant’s chicken salad.
The Red Hats originated in 1997 and have evolved into a group that’s almost reached 100,000 members. Sue Ellen Cooper, the founder, gave her friend a red thrift-store fedora and a copy of Jenny Joseph‘s poem, “Warning,” which opens with the lines:
When I am old I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me
… and from there, a seed was planted and huge tree grew.
Damon Wayons‘ grandmother and mother, Lillian and Elvira, respectively, are in the Red Hats. He has written a book loosely based on the society, with a protagonist named Alma. This is a novel: Wayons creates his own narrative, but bases the characters on a mixture of women he has met in real life. Anyone who has ever experienced Wayons’ work would expect the novel to be filled with slapstick humor and screwball comedy. Instead, it is a sincere, inspirational story about a senior citizen who rediscovers this thing called life, through her friends, the Red Hats.
Wayons will be signing copies of the Red Hats: A Novel at Hue-Man Bookstore this Wednesday, May 5, from 6 – 8 PM. Just in time for Mother’s Day.