Stories behind their hats

Editor's note: This corrects the age Charles Robinson was sent out of state to make money.

COSTA MESA — We've all got them, and sometimes we hang onto them until eternity, or for as long as they can weather the storm of daily life.

We're talking about hats.

And on Friday at the Orange County, more than a dozen senior citizens put them on top of their heads, announced their names into a microphone before an enthusiastic crowd and told the specific stories behind their beloved headwear.

For Charles Robinson, 73, of Long Beach, his white cowboy hat, which won the "Best Cowboy" category, was something he picked up in Buffalo, Wyo. at the Buffalo Hotel while on a deer-hunting trip five years ago.

"We all used to wear cowboy hats growing up in Mississippi, all of us boys," said Robinson, who picked cotton on the family farm just outside the town of Liberty.

At age 21, his father sent him out of state to make money and send it back to the family.

Ultimately, it was Robinson's hard work as a carpenter in California, and the money he mailed back to Mississippi, saved the family farm and helped put a few of his siblings through college.

So every time Robinson puts on his hat, he thinks of his Mississippi days and the back-breaking work he put in over the years to get to the point where he could actually take a vacation with the guys and do some deer hunting.

The stories were endless among the seniors who either strode or hobbled or were wheeled up to Meadows Stage, where they all took seats and humored emcee Judy Hoffman, who, at 70 years old, loves to organize the annual Senior Hat Contest.

"I love seniors, and not just because they're my homies," she said. "I just know that many of them love this event. Some of them come back every single year."

Especially Stanley Cohen, 57, and his mother, Marilyn Cohen, 92, who live together in Westminster.

"I've got Chicken Little, Queen Bee and Fred and Daisy Power," said Stanley Cohen, showing off his colorful hat, something he put together in less than three weeks for the event.

Other interesting hats included a red, white and blue top hat, which won honors in the most Patriotic Category.

But it was Robinson who seemed the most pleased by his green ribbon as he tucked it carefully into his pocket and took the hand of his wife, Alberta, 70, and walked from the fairgrounds in his checkered cowboy shirt.

"This has been one of the greatest days of my life," he said.

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