Pelham, Dracut Red Hats know how to have a good time

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PELHAM — Norma Robinson turned 80 on Dec. 9, so in place of her usual red hat, she donned a magnificent topper in a lush hue of purple for the annual Red Hat Society Christmas party.

“When it’s your birthday, you get to wear a purple hat so that everyone knows,” said Robinson.

December is a big month for birthdays in the 72-member Pelham chapter. Scanning the large room at Harris’ Pelham Inn, several purple hats were scattered amongst the wash of red. Fifty members gathered to celebrate Christmas with dinner and a Yankee swap.

“My birthday’s tomorrow, I’ll be 39!” said Jen Provencal.

“You wish,” shouted a voice from a distant table.

In fact Provencal was about to turn 70, but she faces age with the true spirit of a Red-Hatter, with grace and humor.

The Red Hat Society, a social club created specifically for women older than 50, was founded in 1998 by Sue Ellen Cooper, who was inspired by the poem, Warning, which is about an older woman in purple clothing and a red hat. The Jenny Joseph poem begins, “When I am a old woman…”

Cooper gave a red hat and a copy of the poem as a birthday gift to her friend who was turning 50. They went out on the town dressed in their red hats as a quirky way of greeting middle age, and the idea exploded from there.

This particular Pelham chapter, The Royal Red Hats, began three years ago. Members gather once a month and a captain is chosen to plan a new activity.

Each year the group holds an election for a new queen, whose job is to lead the group to as much fun as possible. This year’s queen, Terri Parent, likes to mix it up with a variety of events throughout the year.

Some become a member of the Red Hat Society for a social outlet, but for Robinson, it’s a way of life. It is a way to stay close with her daughter and niece. It’s also a way to bond with her 9-year-old granddaughter, Samantha Robinson.

“We haven’t missed a tea party yet,” said Robinson.

Since she was 7, Samantha has been a Red Hat in training. Her monthly tea parties with grandma are never shy of dolls and teddy bears adorned with different shapes and sizes of her grandma’s red hats.

There are no rules in the group, only a few basic guidelines. To wear the red hat, you must be at least 50. Younger women may attend the Red Hat functions but rather than a red hat and purple outfit, they must wear a pink hat and a lavender outfit.

This year for the first time, the Pelham Red Hat Society is getting involved with charity events.

“Charity work is up to the queen of each group,” said Parent. “This is the first year the Royal Red Hats have gotten involved in one.”

The group raised $520 from donations and a raffle at their Christmas party on Dec. 12. The money will be used to sponsor an eighth-grader at the Memorial Middle School to attend the class trip to Washington.

Though Parent says the different chapters stick to their own groups for a lot of the activities, members try to plan larger social events throughout the year to meet new people from other chapters. Several of the Pelham members attended a Christmas party hosted by the Dracut chapter on Dec. 7 at Methuen’s Sweetheart Inn.

“We always like to meet new people and interact with other groups; that’s what it’s all about,” said Sharon Piendak, a member of the Dracut Red Hat chapter.

The Dracut chapter, led by Debi Farnsworth, 55, has 45 members. They gather once a month in a member’s house and take turns planning activities and trips, including a variety of regional, national and international events.

The group’s Annual Christmas Party is by far the most anticipated event of the year, according to Piendak, who says it always promises wild and crazy times.

Have a story idea? Contact Heidi Smith at 978-970-4653 or e-mail at hsmith@thevalleydispatch.com.