Gail Shirley, 85, was an active member of the M&M Red Hat Sisters, and the mention of her Red Hat connection drew me to the celebration of her life at the St. Paul Lutheran Church. Two entire pews were taken up by twenty Red Hatters in full regalia, purple clothes and red hats.
The photo board in the lobby showed a smiling, enthusiastic woman, and the eulogy by her youngest son Eric confirmed her love of life. “She was Norwegian to the core,” he said, adding that she was talkative, blunt (sometimes a good thing, sometimes not), and had high expectations in education for her children and grandchildren. With the Red Hats, she was game for anything.
She was thrifty, able to provide for a young family of seven (five kids) on $50 a week. She was generous, sewing clothes for others before herself. She sent clothing outgrown by her kids to relatives in Noway. And she had an indomitable spirit, saying of the cancer that unfolded over the last several years, “I’m not ill. This is just an inconvenience.”
The service, put together by the children and grandchildren, included several hymns, lessons from selected chapters of Romans, a soloist singing Den Store, Hvide Flok, and the recitation of prayers. Gail’s cremated remains were front and center in the church. Inurnment (the placement in an urn at a memorial park) of her remains with those of her deceased husband, Oscar, will take place at a later date.
In Gail Shirley’s honor, here is the poem Warning, by Jenny Joseph, upon which the Red Hat Society is based.
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.