Royal Street in New Orleans holds a certain charm that lures one back time and time again. A few months back, my bride and I were strolling the street, this time with a hat in mind. To her delight, we happened upon a shop that designed custom hats for ladies.
Mesmerized by the millinery Mecca, my beloved moved about, searching for just the right combination of attributes. Suddenly the desired traits converged in a single hat, flourished with bows, feathers and flowers. She deemed it “perfect.”
Compelled by financial constraints, I asked the price.
As high-end shopkeepers often do, the lady held her face emotionless with chin held high, responding a price of $650. I choked to contain my emotions while tightening a warning clutch on my wife’s arm. The hat was swiftly returned to the rack, and the shoppers to the sidewalk.
For the rest of our trip, and even in the months after, we laughingly reflected upon the sticker shock, and our mutual rejection of the rare find. Perhaps the future would yield a better deal.
Months later we found ourselves in Lafayette for the annual Festivals Acadiens et Creoles. One of my favorites, the musical duo of Jesse Lege and Joel Savoy, was performing that afternoon. I recall Jesse announcing in his inimitable Cajun drawl, “Okay, dis gonna be our las’ song, ‘Attrape Mon Chapeau.’ Dat means catch my hat – it’s time ta go.” The catchy Cajun tune ensued to close the show.
My wife’s favorite eatery in the Hub City is Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and we found ourselves there for supper. Seated in the booth across from the missus, my attention was drawn to a sleek female form advancing up the aisle to my wife’s back. The lass wore a striking sheath of light-on-dark gray diagonal stripes, accented by gray pumps, and a wide-brimmed gray hat adorned with bows, feathers, and flowers. Attempting to control my gaze, I returned my attention to Mrs. Cheever as if the lady in gray had never existed.
Minutes later, the gal in gray approached on her return. Unable to conceal my attention, I whispered to my wife, “Check out this hat,” as the woman passed into full view.
“I already have,” replied my wife as she rose and fell into step behind the woman. Overtaking her, my wife blurted, “Honey, I’ve gotta ask you where you got that hat!” Moving beyond earshot, the two giggled and visited briefly, then retired to a private dining room in the rear.
Never letting decorum outweigh her impulse, my bride, Mary Lynn, is prone to be outspoken and curious without regard for circumstance. When she returned to the table, asking me for $125, I was not particularly surprised. Our years together have given me an intuitive knowledge of when to question, and when to simply comply. Thus, I gave her the money without further conversation, and she returned to the inner sanctums of the private dining room.
Puzzled, I sat staring into my glass, when Mary Lynn’s return silently satisfied my curiosity. A wide-brimmed gray hat adorned with bows, feathers, and flowers graced her noggin. Posed in unusual silence, she smiled impishly.
“Did you buy that woman’s hat?” I begged.
“Yep! Right off her head for $125!” came her laughing reply. I laughed, too, shaking my head in false disbelief.
At an adjacent table across the aisle, a birthday celebration was in progress, and our conversation was easily overheard. The birthday revelers joined with us, expressing amusement at the impromptu hat sale. Mary Lynn then moved to their table, and placed her new hat on the elderly birthday boy as his family snapped photos from every angle. Soon the server got wind of the whimsical deal-making, and other diners joined us to hear the silly sale tale. We had Ruth’s hoppin’.
Eventually, the fun ended, and we awaited our taxi under the portico. In a minute, the Lady in Gray, sans chapeau, and her party made their exit. Her name was Tina Guilbeau, a hat-maker from nearby Sunset. They departed stylishly in an impeccably restored 1955 Chevy Bel Air. The two-toned two-door was painted in light and dark gray, as shiny as its passenger.
As we bade farewell, the moon shown on my wife’s beaming face, her smile spanning near as wide as the brim of her new hat. In a whisp of reflection, a catchy Cajun tune rang in my head, “Attrape Mon Chapeau” — it’s time to go.Tina Guilbeau Vintage and custom hats (337) 354-3565 Hatlady56@yahoo.com Texas writer Ned Cheever is a frequent visitor to New Orleans and a contributor to NolaVie. Read his blog at nedcheever.com.