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My Tucson: Hats off to women loving life

Valerie Golembiewski

Valerie Golembiewski

Well, I did it. I joined The Red Hat Society. I’m not a big fan of joining. I did sign up with AARP and AAA because of the discounts – and they are great. Almost makes being over 50 enjoyable.

Being over 50 also entitles me to belong to the Red Hats. I first noticed them on a Hawaiian cruise a couple of years ago. At every meal, this group of eight women would enter the dining room wearing outrageous red hats and purple outfits.

They were having a great time and seemed to truly like each other. I listened in on some of their conversations, which was easy because they were not shy about voicing their opinions.

Over the next 11 days, I learned that they were all mature ladies belonging to the Red Hat Society, all from Tucson, and made trips like this once a year.

They were having fun, and you could tell most of the other diners envied them.

They didn’t hesitate to ask for their English muffins to be crispy or their steaks to be rare. They didn’t do so in a tyrannical or demanding way, but as was their right. As Cyndi Lauper sang, these girls just wanted to have fun – and they did.

On shore trips, I met them again. They ventured into churches and museums with the same aplomb as they did luaus and hula shows. They enjoyed every moment as if it were their last, and they laughed.

I had as much fun watching them as I did on my own sightseeing ventures.

Back in Tucson, I found that my longtime friend Marion was a member of the Red Hats.

She’s a widow with grown children, including a daughter who had a double mastectomy. Marion has a close network of family and friends, but she also gets tremendous support from the Red Hats.

They console her when her daughter experiences setbacks, and cheer with her at each victory. They make her laugh and give her strength.

In the 1960s, I had read a poem by Jenny Joseph titled “Warning.” You’ve probably read it, too. It begins, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, With a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.”

One day, Sue Ellen Cooper impulsively purchased a bright red hat at a thrift store while visiting a friend in Tucson. A while later, she read “Warning” and felt a kinship with Ms. Joseph.

Sue Ellen then gave a red hat and a copy of the poem to her friend Linda. Gradually, Sue Ellen and Linda gave out more hats and more copies of the poem to their women friends.

They started wearing purple clothing in keeping with the spirit of the poem. The group began going out to tea together, celebrating their uniqueness until there were 18 members: a Red Hat Society. As the group grew, chapters were established to accommodate all the members.

The Red Hats “greet middle age with verve, humor and élan.” They believe silliness is the comic relief of life.

Underlying their frivolity is a bond of affection, “forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes us next.”

Tucson’s Red Hats meet at Lady Joan’s Boutique at 7040 E. Golf Links Road. (See www.redhatsociety.com.)

There is also a musical play, Hats, about a woman turning 50. I hope it comes to Tucson someday.

As for men turning 50, don’t despair. There’s a group for you as well: Retired Old Men Eating Out. No word on whether ROMEOs have to wear purple or red, but you can check out their Web site, www.romeoclub.org.

New York transplant Valerie Golembiewski is a Tucson wife, mother and grandmother. E-mail: valeriegolembiewski@cox.net

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