When Jeanette Byrd, chair of Semmes Heritage Day, announced a Hat Contest for the event, Mary Rodning had to look no farther than her trunk to find not only a hat, but an entire outfit from the first half of the 20th Century.
Rodning--not a hoarder, but a keeper--began assembling her ensemble by choosing her grandmother Martha's church hat. The black velvet hat with the ostrich feather fit right in with the turn-of-the-century Semmes School, Malone Chapel and log cabin at Semmes Heritage Park.
But Rodning didn't stop with the hat.
She donned her grandmother's long black "pregnancy skirt," which had ties attached so that the skirt could be adjusted to fit "as big as my grandma had become--she had five children," Rodning said of her Minnesota grandmother, Martha Spaude Pautz.
Rodning continued layering her vintage clothing, slipping on her grandmother's crocheted off-white top over a white blouse. "I think the top may have been her undergarment, but I use it over a blouse," she said. She finished her early 1900s outfit with a little black shawl and a gold pocket watch on a chain around her neck.
"The watch belonged to my shirt tail grandfather Henry," Rodning said, then explained, "He was a 'shirt tail' relative who didn't have any children, so my brothers and I considered him our adopted grandfather." The watch still keeps excellent time when she winds it, she said.
Rodning's clothing called for a photo in exactly the right place, a location that her vintage ensemble would both add authenticity to and receive authenticity from, and the perfect spot was the appropriately furnished historic Semmes school, sitting on the very spot where it was built 113 years ago.
"My mother (Rosetta Pautz Lipke) had been a one-room schoolteacher before my dad snatched her away, as he was in the army in World War II," Rodning said.
And so she posed for Debbie Dial's photo, standing in front of an old-fashioned blackboard, with the alphabet across the top, remembering her mother as a teacher and perhaps feeling like one herself. "To become a teacher, she had to learn the Palmer method of writing, as is shown on the board behind me; she is 92 years old now, and she still has much better handwriting than I do," Rodning said.
Event organizers decided not to single out any one outfit as a winner, instead praising the ingenuity of each of the participants. But Rodning has her grandmother's clothes, carefully packed away in the trunk for the next time she wants slip into a crocheted camisole and a long black skirt, turn off the television and re-read "Pride and Prejudice."