Age is just a STATE of MIND

By Cherie Had

Considered the fastest-growing women’s “dis-organization” in the world, the Red Hat Society is changing the way we view aging. Here two Red Hat groups and the non-affiliated Mad Hatters talk about their escapades and living life to the fullest after turning 50.

You don’t have to wear a purple dress and a red hat, or any other outrageous outfit for that matter, to have fun – but it sure helps.  Just ask any member of the Red Hat Society or one of many other similar groups that are popping up nationwide.

You do, however, need to be a woman of a “certain age” (50 or close to it), have a zest for life and no fear of growing older.

Sheila Alba and Ginny Edelen, co-founders of Mint Hill’s Mad Hatters, will vouch for this.
“My father was terminally ill, and I was going through a particularly bad period in my life,” said Sheila in a recent interview.  “Ginny and I had worked together, and she asked me to breakfast one morning.”

Ginny and Sheila playfully argue about who asked whom to breakfast that day, but, regardless, Sheila only knows that “Ginny was a tremendous help to me.”

“Sheila and I then asked another friend and our mothers to join us. That was the beginning of our little group expanding in age range from 50 something to 80 something,” explained Ginny.

“It snowballed from there,” said Sheila, “and now we have about 42 active members.  We meet once a week for breakfast and once a month for lunch.”

“We try not to structure too much.  People come and go, and it’s never the same group,” Ginny added.

The Mad Hatters

The Mad Hatters always meet at the same restaurant in Mint Hill for breakfast.  “They give us a private room and never rush us.  We can get kind of loud.  There’s a lot of laughing, with the oldest ladies laughing the loudest.  It’s wonderful to hear,” said Sheila.

“Sometimes you’re in the mood to be just as silly as can be, but whatever mood you’re in, it’s just accepted,” added Ginny. “We try to roll with life’s punches and not dwell on the negative – especially aging.  We try to make light of it and lift each other up.”

To celebrate aging, the Mad Hatters throw “ya-ya parties” for members when they become 60, 70, or 80 years old.  “We dress up in our finest crazy outfits with crowns and rhinestones.  We read poems about the honorees and light candles and have a great time celebrating their lives as they enter the harvest years.  In the beginning, some women wouldn’t reveal their age.  Now we have everyone admitting how old they are because they all want ‘ya-ya parties.’ Lately we’ve had to start bundling them,” Sheila laughed.

Other than age, the Mad Hatters have no membership requirements.  “If we think a woman would fit in and enjoy the group, she’s welcome.  No crabby people or complainers are allowed.  We only want cheerful, happy people,” Sheila said.

The Mad Hatters are all involved with supporting the Mint Hill Arts League, which Ginny founded last year to educate the public on the value of the visual and performing arts. 

Golden Magnolias
Mint Hill’s Golden Magnolia Chapter of the Red Hatters is officially a Red Hat Society, with Barbara Lowe as the Queen Mum.  The group of 16 friends, who met through Girl Scouts, range in ages from the 40s (the Pink Hats) to the late 50s.  Each member has a job in the club, and nobody has retired yet. 

“We had been friends for over 16 years and when we left the Scouts, we didn’t want to part ways, so we became a Red Hat Society,” explained Barbara.  “We meet once a month and take turns deciding where we go.  Sometimes we go to dinner or to see a play.  In addition, we meet once a month at different houses to play cards and games.  We go to the beach or Savannah in January, and we camp out in the mountains in August.”

Sue McDonald, another member of the Golden Magnolias, quickly added that the group may not be camping out too much longer.  “We’re looking for hotels or rental houses now that our backs are getting older.”

One of the group’s latest excursions was to a gay Bingo bash to help raise money for AIDS.  “The theme for the night was ‘Trailer Park Trash,’ complete with a fashion show.  We all dressed up in our red hats and purple dresses and had a ball,” laughed Barbara.

The Golden Magnolias “really had a handle on community service through the Girl Scouts. and it naturally flowed into the Red Hat Society.” Sue explained.  “We volunteer at the Mint Hill Historical Society, and Barbara started a Farmers’ Market there last year, where we sell barbecue. We also send packages to the military, help the women’s shelter and the homeless shelter, and throw a party for senior citizens annually. 

“We have lots of fun together, but if I ever needed anything, I know I can call on any of these 16 ladies in our group,” she continued.  “It’s a comforting feeling.  Besides, where else can you get away with wearing red and purple together.”

Limo Queens
While the Golden Magnolias forged their friendships in the Girl Scouts, the Limo Queens, another official chapter of the Red Hat Society, became friends in 1984 when they all were Boy Scout leaders.

“There were eight in our group originally,” said Emily Davis, a member, but more and more women wanted to join us and now we have about 15.  Our oldest member is 65 and we have one Pink-Hatter in her forties.”

The Limo Queens meet monthly for lunch at a local restaurant and sometimes travel to a local event or attraction afterwards.

According to Emily, the group’s name originated after a particularly raucous evening celebrating a member’s divorce.  They rented a limo and dressed up in silk pajamas and fish-net gloves, with several in the group smoking cigars.  One woman even rolled her hair on giant rollers.

“Our newly-divorced member had to plan the evening’s itinerary, which included eight stops,” Emily explained. “We rode the swings and teeter-totters at a local park; drove through the Krispy Kreme drive-through (very difficult in a limo) when the HOT light was on; and visited Wal-Mart, where our divorced member had to carry in a huge bunch of balloons.  When we got to Wal-Mart, we parked the limo right outside the door, and the manager announced over the P.A. system that the Limo Queens had arrived.  All the customers came running to the front of the store expecting to see a celebrity.  It was so much fun.  After several more stops, we ended the night with a slumber party, complete with a massage therapist.  It was truly a night to remember.”

The Limo Queens are a well-traveled group, with Gatlinburg, TN, a favorite destination.  Other spots they have visited include Ft. Campbell, KY; Charleston, SC; and Dahlonega, GA.

“When we travel, it’s traditional that we all have to jump on the beds,” Emily said.  “Of course, we also have to go shopping and sight-seeing.  On one of our shopping sprees, we all bought identical tee shirts and a man stopped us wanting to know if we were a bowling team!  We now have a social coordinator, and we’re talking about taking a cruise,” she added.
Go for it, ladies!  After all, age is just a state of mind!

Columbia-based writer Cherie Had is a member of the Irmo IMPS, a group similar to the Red Hats and the Mad Hatters.