Red Hat Society Brims With Fun, Not Formality

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When the women of the East Verde Park chapter of the Red Hat Society hold their meetings, according to founder Claire Wall, the only item on the agenda is to have a rip-roaring good time.

They don't follow any rules, charge dues or membership fees, organize fund raisers, take roll calls or record minutes. This group of Rim country women simply meet for lunch, laugh, chat, swap unprintable jokes, laugh, tour the countryside and make the most of their monthly escape from husbands, housework and everyday concerns.

"This is strictly a social club, and that's what makes it so nice," Wall said. "Last week, we drove up to Christopher Creek, had lunch on the patio at the Landmark, then took a tour of the Whispering Hope Ranch. We had such a grand time. I mean, here we are, traipsing out in the fields looking at the mules and the llamas with our red hats and purple dresses on."

About those red hats and purple dresses:

The Red Hat Society is a smash-hit international concept based on the poem, "Warning," by Jenny Joseph, about the outrageous things women can do as they grow old such as "wear purple with a red hat which doesn't go."

The whole idea, the society's "Queen Mother," Sue Ellen Cooper of Tucson has said, is to allow women to "greet middle age with verve, humor, and n. We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and, since we are all in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together."

According to the society's Internet website, the Red Hat ball started rolling all over the world some years ago when Cooper impulsively bought a bright red fedora at a thrift shop. Later, when she found Joseph's poem, she decided that her birthday gift to a dear friend would be a vintage red hat and a copy of the poem. Soon, both women were giving the same gift to other friends, all of whom regularly met for tea in their eye-catching regalia ... and the Red Hat Society was born.

Today there are hundreds of mini-societies all over the globe.

The chapter in East Verde Park, a tiny community of 110 homes north of Payson, began life a few months ago after Wall happened to catch a television news segment about a Red Hat Society chapter in a community south of San Francisco.

"They were just going to get on a train, go to its final destination, wherever that happened to be, then shop, eat lunch, have fun and come home," Wall said. "I thought, 'How neat!'"

Underlining the neatness of the idea was a story in The Arizona Republic about several Valley-based Red Hat Societies.

"I cut the article out, took it around to my neighbors, and told them that anyone over 50 can belong to this group," Wall said. "Everybody was quite enthusiastic about it, and that's how our chapter was started."

The next task, she said, was trying to find red hats.

"They're not very common, so we ended up having to buy neutral-colored hats and spraying them red.

The East Verde chapter now has 12 participants. Wall is reluctant to call them "members," as that word insinuates rules and dues and everything the society is not.

"I'm the oldest at 73. The youngest is not quite 50, but we're letting her in anyway," Wall said, laughing.

"It's sharing," says a red-hatted Mina Cavanaugh, 60. "It's camaraderie with friends. It's time to get together and catch up and relax and have fun."

"I'm in it for the friendship with the other ladies, the fun we have and the total lack of structure," Pat Morris, another 60-year-old, said.

Although Wall's chapter of the Red Hat Society is not looking for any new members "12 works out perfectly," she said she will happily help anyone form their own Rim country chapter of the Red Hat Society. All they have to do is call her at 474-4459.

Warning

by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we've no money

for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick the flowers in other peoples' gardens

And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat

And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickle for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry

And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

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