PENDLETON — What’s red and purple all over? In 1997, Queen Mother Sue Ellen Cooper celebrated Linda Murphy’s 55th birthday by giving her a vintage red fedora and poem labeled “Warning” by Jenny Joseph speaking about red hats and purple clothes. The Red Hat Society officially began in 1998 when Cooper and five friends gathered for tea.
Fifteen Pendleton Red Hat Chicks socialized at Shirley Mercer’s Peaceful Valley Farm over numerous casseroles, potato and relish salads, desserts, fruits and teas.
Leave the politics behind. There are no officers, no treasurers, no presidents. Every third Wednesday of the month, their single responsibility is to have fun.
“We’re just sassy old women who aren’t ready for the rocking chair yet,” said Barbara Mercer, known to Hat Chicks as Mother Hen.
The local chapter started with 10 members in 2003. It swelled to 40 through word of mouth and includes Pink Hatters under 50. Annual membership is $39. Barbara Mercer, Shirley’s sister-in-law, also seeks small donations of $3 for cards or flowers when one is ill, for instance.
The social club toured Anderson-based Good’s Candy Shop, learned about the Civil War at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis and spearheaded bingo at Pendleton’s Rawlins House. They traveled to an Edinburgh fashion show put on by Koret for the organization.
Eating is often at the core of gatherings. Fifteen members from Yorktown to Daleville to Anderson to Pendleton appeared at the picnic prinked in ostentatious regalia.
They “hat chat” about current events, recent achievements, husbands and offspring.
Anderson resident Charlotte Hinson, 58, talked about her career. Or lack thereof.
“I never wanted a career,” she said. “I just wanted to get by.”
“That’s a career within itself,” replied 74-year-old Loraine Whistler, over a hamburger.
Hinson responded, “Retirement is what I’ve been training for all my life. The best job I’ve ever had.”
The topic of family was bound to produce conversation.
“My son’s friend came over to our house so much his mother sent groceries,” recalled Hinson while occasionally exchanging jabs with her 55-year-old sister, Jenny Benfield, who sported a large, brimmed hat.
“Some mothers just bring ’em (their kids),” said Whistler of Pendleton.
The quick-witted group, including Pendleton residents Gwen DeShong and Marge Blackwell, eventually evolved the conversation into something serious — connecting with children at the dinner table.
“If you can’t talk about it at home, where else are you going to learn?” Hinson asked, regarding taboo topics such as abortion.
Hinson, a 1 1/2 year member, conceded that she always thought it silly and showy to wear big, bright hats.
“But I realized the more outlandish you are, the more fun you have,” Hinson said, sporting a purple visor dotted with red hats.