How many members in the Red Hat Peppers?
We have 22. And there’s two more coming, so I think we’re going to have 24 before too long. And the other Brandon chapter, the Monterey Scarlet Flashers, I believe, has 12 or 14.
There are 804 Red Hat ladies who were registered in Manitoba last spring, and there are more than a million worldwide.
How long have there been Red Hatters in Brandon?
We’ve been organized since 2003. Elspeth Denbow was the lady that brought it to the Brandon area from when she’d been down in Texas. She had joined there and she thought, ‘Hey — the ladies in Manitoba would really enjoy this!’ And I was invited to go along because a friend said, ‘I was sure you’d have a red hat!’ I did! So we started and had a marvelous time.
And what do you do, exactly?
We all go out, and eat, and shop, and have a good time with our friends. And make new friends. The whole idea is that we should just let go and have fun.
Now I understand this is for women of a certain age?
Over 50, yes. But you can be a Pink Hatter up until the age of 50 you don’t have to wait until you’re 50. Some of us have granddaughters who are Pink Hatters.
Your members are all women, and it’s purely social, right?
Purely social. We don’t do fundraising or anything like that, because we do that in the other organizations we belong to. It’s just a group that pulls us out of the house to meet new people, and go and do things we normally wouldn’t do, like visit museums, go to teahouses and have tea or coffee, and meet people from all walks of life. We’ve had some marvelous tours and trips around.
Now before we started chatting, you showed me your bright red bathtub. I’ve never seen anything like it! So you’re a self-admitted fanatic about the colour red.
I really am. I think it started when I was about five — my mother was told she should always put red on me because it showed off my colours, and it does seem to. And it happened to work out that I liked red!
So when the notion of the Red Hats came along it was just extra appealing, then?
Oh yes! My mom, I think, was a Red Hatter incognito away back in the ’80s, because she had hats galore when everybody wore hats. Mom loved hats. She had a big purple one with a big pouf on the side of it.
Tell me about the beginnings of the organization. Compared to many, it really hasn’t been around that long…
It started in the States in 1998. Sue Ellen Cooper had a friend who was turning 55 who became very despondent about being old. So Sue Ellen went out and bought a red hat and took her friend and another couple of ladies out for lunch, and they looked at the poem, Jenny Joseph’s "Warning" — the first line is "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple." And the whole get-together just cheered Sue Ellen’s friend up so immensely, they talked to others about it and said, ‘Well, let’s get together and have tea and do this once a month.’ And it has mushroomed from there. There are over a million members in so countries all around the world!
Even Queen Elizabeth was invited by an Australian lady, a Red Hatter, to join the Red Hat Society. But they asked her if she wouldn’t mind just being the Princess, because she was a queen already, and somebody else would have more fun!
And the Queen did show up at the Kentucky Derby, two years after that, I believe, wearing a muted red hat and a muted purple outfit!
Each chapter of Red Hatters has what they call a queen, right?
Every chapter has a queen and a vice-queen. Our vice-queen is Verna McDonald. In the other chapter, the Monterey Scarlet Flashers, the queen is Arletta Dennison and I believe Mary Thorgeirson is the vice-queen.
So what do you do as queens and vice-queens?
Well, we more or less make sure that every month you do something. It’s not very complicated — you just have to phone up a restaurant and say, ‘I’d like to book your restaurant for the third Saturday’ or whatever day we go out on. ‘And there’ll be 23 approximately coming for lunch,’ or dinner, or whatever they want. And that’s really all you have to do. We take it from there. We get together afterwards and say, ‘Let’s go shopping’ or ‘Let’s go to a museum next month.’
We went down to Boissevain to see the murals — I forget how many years ago now. And one year we went to see the lilies in Neepawa for the Lily Festival.
So do you and your vice-queen do all the organizing yourselves?
Oh no. We pretty much share the duties with the members. They can sign up to put together something for whatever month they want.
Are there usually quite a lot of conventions across Canada?
Yes, usually there are, once a year. This past year, we didn’t have a ‘convention,’ but we had a big bash out at Garson, just east of Winnipeg. And we had 180 Red Hat ladies there. Oh, it was just a huge event, and a lot of fun! We had some entertainment, and marvelous food again, because we love to eat. Maybe that’s our first reason to be. The second one is shopping. We love to go shopping.
And when we go to another country, we can go to the Red Hat Society and find out if there are people in Australia, if we’re going there, for example, or New Zealand, and if there happens to be a chapter, or several, in the city that we’re going to, we can contact them through the Red Hat Society and they will quite often meet up with us and show us around. And you can ‘sofa surf,’ they call it — you can stay over at somebody’s house. Quite frequently they invite you.
I know some Red Hatters get really into the wardrobe purple clothes and red hats. So I’m dying to know how many hats you’ve got!
I had 23 at one time! But we are really downsizing. I had them displayed all around the top of the room. And Harvey, my poor husband! It was just a little overwhelming for some people to go into that room because there was just too much red! He enjoyed it, though. And he’s very supportive. He says I come home in a good mood whenever the Red Hatters get together.
We’ve already established that you love red — does it bother you to have to wear purple?
No — I enjoy toning it down a little bit with the purple! Sometimes, if I go on a weekend to a convention or something, by the time I get home, I’m pretty well red-and-purpled out. So I don’t mind going in to other colours. And my friends often say, ‘Oh! I hardly knew it was you. No red!’
Is there anything people should know about getting involved with the Red Hat Society?
There are no real rules to being a Red Hat member. You just have to want to put a hat on. Pink until you’re 50, and then they’ll ‘gra-hat-uate’ you into Red Hat. And just to want to go out and have fun, meet new ladies, and be willing to go out and do things. And what’s the saying — let it all hang out? Live, love and laugh.
We invite anybody who’s interested to contact us and begin to have fun. Let your inner child out to play, and have a good balance in your senior years!
For more information, contact Douglas at 204-726-5843, or Linda Morton at the Manitoba Red Hat Society in Winnipeg at 204-777-6274.
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 flowers in other people's 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.