mission san francisco de espada

An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Forty-Seven

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Forty-Six

Hedda Burgemeister, May 1913

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

Reciting to the mirror in the parlor, Hedda pauses to pin on her hat. 

Otto said he would be tied up today, so she is off to the library for a fresh supply of reading materials. 

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tosst to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Hedda’s eyes glisten with tears. Tears of pride. Emma Lazarus’ words carry a deeper, more personal meaning today. They belong to her now. Today. Hedda’s first full day as an American citizen.

The hinges of her front gate squeak. Someone begins whistling a rather silly tune.  As footsteps resound on the porch, the whistle transforms into a ditty: 

Five Suffragettes

Were marching past a store;

One saw some sausages –

And then there were four.

A sharp rap at the door. Hedda’s cheeks redden in indignation over the harpooning of Suffragettes. She swings open the door to confront him.

Otto prances in and hands her a string of sausages. In a very un-Otto-like fashion, he continues his song:

Four Suffragettes

As earnest as could be;

One saw a bargain sale –

And then there were three.

Smiling, undeterred by her hands on her hips or scowling face, he reaches in his pocket to produce a pair of gloves with a “sale” tag on them. 

Powers’ hateful “Onward Female Soldiers” cartoon in the paper last week did not escape Otto’s notice. 

As he circles around her ready to launch into another verse, she smiles despite herself.

Three Suffragettes –

An energetic crew;

One saw a looking glass –

And then there were two.

From his inside breast pocket, Otto pulls out a huge powderpuff. “For the newest American to join the movement,” he says as he pats her nose. “I assume you did pass your final naturalization exam?” 

She nods affirmatively. Beaming.

She has not seen him this happy and relaxed for weeks. She is enjoying the show even though it is she he mocks.

Two Suffragettes –

They were having lots of fun;

One went into a candy store –

Then there was one.

He pops a horehound drop into her mouth. Grasping her in a tango stance, Otto changes the tempo.

One lonesome Suffragette…

da, da, da, da, da…

Marching by herself….

Hedda cannot hold back any longer. Laughter explodes from within, ejecting the horehound drop onto the arm of her dance partner. They fall to the floor together, giggling like children. This is a side of Otto she has never encountered.

“I have a mission today,” he teases.

Hedda catches her breath, briefly fretting about the different connotations of the word “mission.” But, no, his playful mood remains unbroken.

“You have been pining for a ride in my motorcar, and that is what you will have.  To celebrate your transformation from ein deutsches Fraulein to an American Miss, we are heading south to while away the afternoon at the fourth mission.”

Of late, Otto rarely risks driving her anywhere in the environs of San Antonio. 

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. Besides, only the most adventurous of tourists and few San Antonians ever venture that far along the mission trail.”

Unwilling to spoil his surprise, Hedda does not confess to him she has been there before. She does not tell him how the ancient Mexican, stooped as though his enormous sombrero were made of lead, pointed out the few remaining vestiges of the paint that had once cloaked the graying stones with vivid colored patterns. This wild color, inherited from the Indians and hidden to the nonobservant, is always pulsing just underneath the surface veneer of San Antonio, distinguishing it from all the cities to the east. No influx of staid Englishmen or Germans can bridle it.

She struggles to finish pinning on her hat as he pulls her out the door. Otto executes an exaggerated deep bow before extending his hand to assist her into the car. He pulls one last prop from his pocket.

“So, you want to enjoy the same privileges as a man?”

She grabs the boy’s cap he tauntingly twirls on his index finger. She removes her hat and pulls the cap down over her hair, conscious that this part of his joke is designed to prevent anyone from observing him riding with a woman who is not his wife. 

As Otto gets behind the wheel, he reaches behind the seat and produces a bottle of beer. He grabs an opener from the glove box, and presses the bottle into her hand.

“Alright Miss Suffragette. Drink up like a man. After all, Pearl Beer gives young ladies, and lads, rosy cheeks.”

Hedda considers the “rosy cheeks” line to be one of the brewery’s weakest advertising “proverbs.” He knows she rarely drinks beer and never straight from a bottle. But she gamely accepts the challenge, taking a big swig as he guides the shiny touring car around the corner onto Presa Street.

Savoring the bitter aftertaste, she smiles. This promises to be one of most enjoyable afternoons of her life.

“As the cap is not a woman’s most desirable fashion accessory, I have a splendid specimen of an ostrich plume resting on the floorboard behind us. I think you should amass an abundance of the fine fluffy feathers and then take them to our finest milliner to create a daringly enormous hat. A hat that can be spotted in any crowd. To see you in a hat like that would make me prouder than a peacock.”

One plume? An absurdly small start. But where in the world would she wear such a hat anyway?


In the April 21 edition of the San Antonio Light, Hedda was listed among those slated to take final naturalization exams on May 5.

Bumped into Powers’ 1913 cartoon of “Onward Female Soldiers” and decided Otto would find it amusing. The excursion to Mission Espada is invented, as is the presentation of the plume.

Continue to Chapter Forty-Eight

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