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Irma G: A Century of Hats and Spirit


“Remember the days long gone by. Ponder the years of each generation. Ask your parent and let her tell you, and your grandparent, who will explain it.” – Deuteronomy 32:7


What do we see when we see the elderly? As we breeze by we may observe stooped shoulders, crooked backs, gnarled hands, uncertain gaits, wrinkled skin. 


But beneath these superficial indicators of age are people. Perhaps the elderly woman you passed was once a homemaker, or a doctor, or a secretary, or a clerk. Perhaps she was a traveler, or a soldier, or a nurse. She played bridge, or canasta, or Mahjong. She volunteered her services.


What do we see when we see women who once walked with a confident stride now shuffling, grasping their walkers as their balance leaves them? Do we see our mothers as accumulations of books read, tears wiped, dishes cooked, jobs well done, families held together, countries traveled, wars fought, and peace kept? Or do we miss this when we glance around them instead of at them?


My mother, Irma Gershkowitz, had been a homemaker, a shopper, a traveler, a player of Mahjong, a member of Hadassah, a community member, and a person who tried hard to make sponge cakes on Passover with varied success. She had a rocky but passionate marriage with my father. She deeply loved her sister until the day that she died. My mother savored white wine, the Boston Red Sox, and Cape Cod. In her day, she was a fierce shopper at Boston’s Filene’s Basement. She was a mean Scrabble player and an avid reader. She and my father wowed crowds at family parties with their dance skills. Irma G., like all of us, had her faults and her virtues, her likes and dislikes. In her eyes, face, and hands I see the accumulation of these experiences. But I had never  taken the time to really see her as a person.


This was a shared project with my mother during the final year of her life where I photographed her in a century’s worth of hats. To say that Irma G. was an animated subject would be an understatement. When she donned a hat, her anxiety disappeared and she beamed. In front of the lens, her moodiness dissipated like heavy fog. She laughed, she posed, she flirted and teased. At times her eyes closed as though she was elsewhere and she raised her hand upwards as though grasping for something unknown. The project transported her back in time physically and perhaps spiritually, as well.


My mother delighted in preparing for the photo shoots and in concocting creative poses. Whether she was wearing a beret, or a straw hat, or a kerchief, she reveled in seeing herself in the photos and noted how lovely she looked. She especially loved sharing those photos with others; these photos were a gift that validated both her past and her current identity. Most of all, the project gave her the gift of time with her daughter and to her daughter, the gift of spending meaningful time with her mother.

Irma from Elisif.jpg
Irma the fence 3 (1 of 1).jpg
Irma in 1920 hat (1 of 1).jpg
irma g website 6.jpg
Irma in red and blue (19 of 22).jpg
Irma in red-Edit.jpg
mom with flowered hat.jpg
Irma in red and blue (13 of 22).jpg
mom beret.jpg
Irma with orange hat.jpg
Irma in an orange scarf (1 of 1)
irma g in shower cap collection for lensculture.jpg
Irma in straw hat 1960s (1 of 1).jpg
irma with pink hat and sunglasses.jpg
irma with yellow kerchief.jpg
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