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'Aunt Flossie's Hats (and Crab Cakes Later)'


Editor's note:

Two sisters go visiting an aunt in Baltimore and hear her stories about days gone by. On Sunday afternoons, Sarah and I go to see Great-great-aunt Flossie. Sarah and I love Aunt Flossie's house. It is crowded full of stuff and things. Books and pictures and lamps and pillows. ...

Plates and trays and old dried flowers. ...

And boxes and boxes and boxes of HATS!

On Sunday afternoons when Sarah and I go to see Aunt Flossie, she says, "Come in, Susan. Come in, Sarah. Have some tea. Have some cookies. Later we can get some crab cakes!"

We sip our tea and eat our cookies, and then Aunt Flossie lets us look in her hatboxes.

We pick out hats and try them on. Aunt Flossie says they are her memories, and each hat has its story.

Hats, hats, hats, hats!

A stiff black one with bright red ribbons. A soft brown one with silver buttons. Thin floppy hats that hide our eyes. Green or blue or pink or purple. Some have fur and some have feathers. Look! This hat is just one smooth soft rose, but here's one with a trillion flowers! Aunt Flossie has so many hats!

One Sunday afternoon, I picked out a wooly winter hat, sort of green, maybe. Aunt Flossie thought a minute. Aunt Flossie almost always thinks a minute before she starts a hat story. Then she sniffed the wooly hat.

"Just a little smoky smell now," she said.

Sarah and I sniffed the hat, too. "Smoky smell, Aunt Flossie?"

"The big fire," Aunt Flossie said. "The big fire in Baltimore. Everything smelled of smoke for miles around. For days and days. Big fire. Didn't come near our house on Centre Street, but we could hear fire engines racing down St. Paul.

"Horses' hooves clattering. Bells! Whistles! Your great-grandma and I couldn't sleep. We grabbed our coats and hats and ran outside. Worried about Uncle Jimmy's grocery store, worried about the terrapins and crabs. Big fire in Baltimore."

Aunt Flossie closed her eyes. I think she was seeing long ago. I wondered about crab cakes. Did they have crab cakes way back then?

Then Sarah sniffed Aunt Flossie's hat. "No more smoky smell," she said. But I thought I could smell some, just a little.

Then Sarah tried a different hat. Dark, dark blue, with a red feather.

"This one, Aunt Flossie! This one!"

Aunt Flossie closed her eyes and thought a minute. "Oh my, yes, my, my. What an exciting day!"

We waited, Sarah and I.

"What happened, Aunt Flossie?" I asked.

"Big parade in Baltimore."

"Ooh! Parade!" said Sarah. "We love parades."

"I made that hat," Aunt Flossie said, "to wear to watch that big parade. Buglers bugling. Drummers drumming. Flags flying everywhere. The boys - soldiers, you know - back from France. Marching up Charles Street. Proud. Everyone cheering, everyone shouting! The Great War was over! The Great War was over!"

"Let's have a parade!" I said.

Sarah put on the dark blue hat. I found one with a furry pompom. We marched around Aunt Flossie's house.

"March with us, Aunt Flossie!" I called.

But she was closing her eyes. She was seeing long ago.

"Maybe she's dreaming about crab cakes," Sarah said.

From AUNT FLOSSIE'S HATS (AND CRAB CAKES LATER) Text copyright ) 1991 by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard. Illustrations copyright ) 1991 by James Ransome. Reprinted by permission of Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Pub Date: 5/06/98

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