Do You Have a Hat for the Races?

Do You Have a Hat for the Races?

My hat is ancient. It may be 30 years old, but it is more like 40. It was a nice straw hat from the beginning. However, age has mellowed it, and it has a patina that can only come with many years of use. For a long time, I kept it in my car all summer. It was always near in those years when we regularly drove a ‘four-in-hand.’ It sat on the back shelf below the rear window of my dark green Infinity sedan. It lay there day and night for years except when I wore it. It never came into the house to be put away. That way, I had it with me if someone asked me unexpectedly to drive with Charley or some friend. Nothing is worse than having NO hat when asked to sit on the box seat. I loved keeping this one handy.

It has a wide brim and a little upturn. There is a faded brown velvet ribbon as a hatband. Attached to the ribbon is a rose of deep, rusty blush, which has faded like the straw and the ribbon. Stuck in the band are a couple of rooster feathers, some different ones, including a long pheasant feather that gives it a jaunty air.

Though, that hat was not originally my first choice. It was a nice backup, just in case. Now, though, it is my ‘go-to’ hat for any sporty event. It is just so cool. It has been all over the place. You cannot buy a hat that looks like it. That is because it is aged to perfection. There is nothing ‘new-looking’ about it. The shading of the straw is perfection and impossible to replicate.

I have tried to look for the earliest photos of me wearing that hat. It just does not seem to have a beginning date. But it was probably bought in the late 1980s or perhaps early 1990. It is a cherished piece of clothing. It always cheers me to wear it.

Others have favorite race clothes. I remember Betty Furness always wore a fringed and beaded buckskin jacket to the races. It made an impression on me because, at first, I thought the races were a place for fashion statements. This proved to be completely wrong. True Virginians had a poor opinion of those women who dressed up to look like they came out of a fashion magazine. That simply pegged them as NOT knowing how to dress. Some people have a special cape or a slicker lined in plaid. Many people, male and female, have a signature race hat. Sensible shoes or boots are a must. There is often mud or uneven ground for walking. Races are social but not a society event, even though some very fancy people may be there watching.

Almost 20,000 people attended the Montpelier races this year. The biggest crowd they have ever had. After Covid scared many typical racegoers away, they were there with a vengeance this year. People stopped me to compliment my hat. The sun was bright, and the shade of the brim was welcome. The crowd swirled around me as I tried to locate my son, who was an official. It was perfect weather, about 70 degrees, with no wind, no rain, and no clouds in the sky. The ground was highly suitable for racing and the entire day went well until the final race. We had already left, so this is hearsay. But apparently, the winning horse had a heart attack in the winners’ circle in full view of the crowd. Luckily, many people had left just as we did to avoid the long wait that goes along with staying past the last race. This was sad, but these things happen sometimes. Life is full of risk. And horse sports are definitely on the risky side.

It is always important to look to the future for the next adventure. Don’t dwell on the past or mourn what is lost. Montpelier races are the most fun to attend. The races are challenging to see there, but the crowd is enormous. They come to see each other more than they wish to see the horses race. Many vendors rent small tents from which to sell their goods. Very unusual and expensive items abound. All very “horsey” or country friendly, of course. There are fancy collars and leashes for dogs, paintings and other artworks, hats decorated with flowers or feathers, leather goods, and men’s and women’s outerwear.

All of this takes place at James and Dollie Madison’s home, giving it a historic flare. The property is simply gorgeous. Rolling hills, wooded patches, and the famous pergola which graces all the Montpelier signs and insignia. Be sure to go there next year. Always the first Saturday in November. You can set your calendar by it. See you there!

Copyright©. 2022 Bonnie B. Matheson

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