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Uncle Pray’s Hat

Just once! I attended the wedding of an English woman in one of our northern colonies and was flipped over by the sea of hats. The gal wedded a boy from New England and imported all her school chums.

Men love a woman in a hat, and contemporary women have not caught on to what their grandmothers knew. It is the quickest way to be noticed and appreciated.

A man wearing a dress hat will draw attention also, but there is magic in it. Add to that the eventual disappearance of the arcana of hat-wearing, such as knowing when to remove it and how to care for it.

Born in 1897, Ephraim Pray “Pray” Phillips was a pre-teen when my father was born. The two of them were alike in appearance and demeanor. The other two siblings favored their mother's Milam line.

By his mid-twenties Pray had enough of farm life and looked eastward to Atlanta for opportunity and found it at the post office.

Pray and another letter carrier were tasked with a single customer, the seventeen- story Candler Building. While Pray, the senior of the two, handled the lower floors, his partner serviced the upper floors. In August of 1949 Uncle Pray suffered a stroke at his home at 400 Mathewson Place near Westview Cemetery.

I recall his wife, Aunt Lavada, said that she was puzzled by the commotion in the hospital. The hallways were full of newspaper reporters and photographers.

The next day she learned the celebrity patient was Margaret Mitchell, who was struck by a car while crossing Peachtree street. She died a few days later.

Uncle Pray never fully recovered. He tried to find something within his reach at the post office, but he eventually took a disability retirement until July 1955 when he suffered a fatal stroke. Without children of their own, I was their favorite nephew by default. I inherited Uncle Pray's personal things, such as his straight razor, which I tried once, and his hat. The tan felt hat has a wider brim than I like but it fits the times. It is a “Royal Stetson DeLuxe” and “Alford Bros Lawrenceville, GA” is embossed on the sweat band. The brothers owned stores in nine towns.

The felt hat is in good condition for its age, which is close to eighty years. It has a short, flat brim that can be snapped down, but most men wore the brim flat: Think of President Lyndon Johnson in a hat.

Men often kept a calling card or a dollar bill on the inner sweat band. I checked.

Nope. Just the hat. I had to look.

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