I love this story my mother told me as a kid. I never met Grandma Perkins, who from all reports was an old war horse. Neither my mother nor my grandmother had a warm thing to say about her, so I feel no guilt in sharing this tale. Also, from what I heard, she had plenty of axes to grind with relatives she actually met, so surely she won’t bother with haunting me for speaking ill of her.
Grandma Perkins always said she loved a good fight. Well, she must have died happy, because she and her daughter-in-law had a whing-dinger going when she had a stroke and keeled over. Ruby Nell was a sweet woman and didn’t usually get into it with Grandma, but hadn’t been able to avoid her that day. Her sons, Dave and Harry, and their luckless wives, Ruby Nell and Ethel, had both built houses on Grandma and Grandpa’s place, so Grandma felt free “straighten them girls out” whenever they needed it. Ruby Nell was making pickles when Grandma decided to come over and straighten her out. If she’d given over, Grandma would have ruined the whole batch of much needed pickles. Enraged, Grandma threw a fit, had a stroke, and died on the spot. Of course, poor Ruby Nell felt awful.
Having been the object of Grandma’s temper many times, the other family members tried to console Ruby Nell, but she felt so guilty, she insisted she couldn’t possibly go to the funeral. Finally, her friends and family reminded her of how she been like a daughter to her, despite Grandma’s frequent fits. It could have been any of them that day. Ruby Nell had been the best of all to Grandma. Dave assured her, “Mama knew you loved her. You have to go to the funeral.” Then the clincher, “What will the neighbor’s think?”
After all this loving reassurance, Ruby Nell decided she had manage the funeral after all, but didn’t want to face the small-minded gossips to shop for a new hat for the funeral. She had a new, black bombazine that looked great on her, but she couldn’t show her face without a hat. Her friends, probably the same gossips she was hoping to avoid, showed up bringing all their best, hoping to spare her tender feelings. Hat after hat covered Ruby Nell’s bed: veiled black felts, sequined hats with feathers, cloques with wide ribbon bands. Though, Ruby Nell had never had access to such a plethora of millinery finery, she wisely chose the veiled, black felt, to best hide her tear-stained eyes.
Once Ruby Nell made her dowdy choice, her sisters-in-law Ethel and Maude, Grandma’s unmarried daughter descended on the delightful confection of frothy hats. Both immediately laid claim the loveliest of the lot, a forest-green fedora trimmed with a stunning green band and jaunty plume. It was unbelievable to find such a beauty on loan! They almost pulled it apart! Their argument got quite loud with Maude screeching “it ought ‘a be against the law for a fat little dishwater-blonde like you to be wearing a beautiful hat that, when I’ve got this beautiful red hair!” Harry got concerned about the neighbors seeing a “hair pulling” then and took Ethel out to buy her own new hat.
Smugly satisfied, Maude, proudly wore that gorgeous hat to the funeral. She was a vain woman, proud of her secretarial position down at the bank. Though the hats had been loaned to Ruby Nell, Maude scooped them up, taking them next door where she still lived with her father and recently deceased mother. Those lovely hats made appearances regulary over the next couple of weeks at the bank. Embarrassed in front of her friends, Ruby Nell finally had to have Dave go next door and collect them to be returned to her friends.