Wednesday, June 4, 2008


The other day someone told me in an e-mail that she liked the fancy white hat I’m wearing in the photograph at the top of this blog. She asked me where I got it so I told her the whole story. And now, I would like to tell you.

I found the hat in a little shop in Muncie, Indiana. The shop is called Town Boutique, and is owned by a tiny black woman named Mattie Coleman. She caters mostly to the black women of Muncie who like to dress up for church. Perhaps you have read the wonderful book, "Crowns"? Or seen the play made from it? The hats are supposed to be a foretaste of their heavenly crowns and so are as elaborate and beautiful as the women can afford. The hat I am wearing in that photograph is beautiful and elaborate – but tame by comparison with some of the hats in Miss Mattie’s shop. (I call her Miss Mattie, she calls me Miss Mary.) It was Miss Mattie who persuaded me to try on an enormous purple platter of a hat with a curved rhinestone triangle draped over the crown, and the brim edged with purple marabou feathers. When I saw that incredible object sitting on my lowly head, I realized I didn't have the nerve to wear it in public. I said I didn’t have anything to wear with it, which was true. I turned to hand it back to her and there she was, holding a matching purple suit by the hanger. What could I do? But it took me almost an hour of standing in my hotel room, one hand on the doorknob, to summon the nerve to walk out into the mystery convention in that suit and hat. It caused such a sensation that I have never again been afraid to wear one of Miss Mattie's hats. In fact, I’m trying to establish a reputation for wearing fancy hats, hoping to arrive at the day when someone can walk into a bookstore and say, "There’s this author, she writes mysteries. I can’t remember her name, but she wears these hats," making a gesture around her head to show they are large and complicated. And the clerk will reply, "Oh, you must be thinking of Monica Ferris." I may never get there, but the journey has been really fun!

Anyway, I was in Riverside, California, attending a needlework convention, and wearing the white hat. I loved it, the crown sat right atop my head, but the brim was built at a decided angle, and set off with a huge bunch of white net with sparkles caught up in it. Classy, and memorable –On the other hand, I’d had the hat for a couple of years, and so was wearing it less and less. I was walking back to the hotel when this big, dark van pulled suddenly to the curb and a black woman got out and hurried over to me. "Where did you get that hat?" she demanded. She was sooooo disappointed when I told her it was years old and purchased very far from California. She was going to a wedding the next day, and wanted a fancy hat to wear. She’d bought a hat – she took it out of the bag she was carrying. It wasn’t a bad hat, a small red velvet affair with a little rhinestone ornament on one side. I took my hat off and we tried on one another’s hats, using the darkened windows of her van as a mirror. I liked the red hat on me -- but when she put that white hat one, it suddenly roared back to life. In fact, it looked a whole lot better on her than it ever had on me. So I said, "Would you like to trade?" She screamed and threw her arms around me and said the most amazing thing: "Honey, I’ll say a prayer for you every day the rest of my life!" My heart just melted, I haven’t felt that blessed in my whole life – and I’ve had bishops making the Sign of the Cross over me. We hugged again, and she got back in her van and drove away. I hope she keeps her promise.


Camille Minichino said...

Great stories, Monica.
First, I think you're there -- about people asking for books by the lady who wears the big beautiful hats.
And I love the connection with heavenly crowns. Wonderful.

Monica Ferris said...

I agree, it's wonderful about the hats. I dare not claim to think that way -- brought up Catholic, so am never too sure I'll get to heaven.

Terri Thayer said...

That's a lovely story. I hope that woman really shined at the wedding!

Betty Hechtman said...

What a great story. I will never look at the picture of you on the banner without thinking about where you bought that hat. All the other details were great too.

Anonymous said...


I am Mattie's daugther and she is still going strong selling hats and "dressy" clothing items, at the Towne Boutique in Muncie,IN and at conventions and special showings. She was recently in California and could have replaced your lovely white hat for another spectacular "crown." What a great blog....

Love the connection and branding for you with the book signing and a signature "HAT."

Gwen Coleman-Mabry
West Bloomfield, MI