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It's all in the hats

Every year my childhood friends and I celebrate our birthdays together. This year it was the big 4-0 for Mary, Gail and myself.

Of the three of us, I am the oldest, born July 26 with Mary in a very close second, born July 27. Indeed, we have been friends since birth. Gail, the baby of the group, was born Nov. 12, 1968.

In July, Gail told us she would take us on a dinner cruise on Otter Tail Lake for our milestone birthday. We ended up at the Nite Owl, surprised by friends and family with an Over-the-Hill party. It was a great double-header.

So this month, Gail declared we would not be having a surprise party for her. She already had an Over-the-Hill surprise party at 30. We decided to respect her wishes.

Mary saw an advertisement for a concert at Northern Lights Casino in Walker featuring country singer Mark Wills. I called for tickets and we were set for Saturday, Nov. 15. I had no idea who Mark Wills was but I didn't care -- it was the time with my friends enjoying the journey that mattered, not necessarily the destination.

On Saturday, we were off for our adventure. We adorned Gail with a "40th" necklace and "Life begins at 40" button but she refused to wear the recycled 40th crown Mary wore in July because it would mess up her hair-do. Being a modest person, I figured she just didn't want to draw a whole lot of attention to herself.

We got to the casino and stopped at the gift shop to pick up our will call tickets. (By the way, why do they call it a will call ticket booth?) Anyway, we were checking out the numerous silly gifts like the fabric cane that plays a tune or the hula hooping pink hippo, when I came across some flashy hats. Think of the hat that the Cat in the Hat wore but instead of red and white stripes these were purple, green and gold sequins stripes. I put one on and Gail snapped a photo. I checked the price, only $3. I announced that I would wear one if they did. Honestly, I was having a bad hair night and thought it was a great solution to feeling self-conscious. Mary and Gail actually agreed.

We left the gift store wearing our flashy Mardi Gras looking Cat in the Hat hats, holding our Mark Wills tickets in hand. All eyes were on us and we were all smiles.

We walked over to the security guard to ask where we would go for the Mark Wills concert.

"Nice hats. The concert will be beyond those doors. Why don't you have your picture taken in front of the mural? You can take pictures here in the lobby but not in the casino."

We put our camera away and entered the casino. People of all sorts commented on our hats. Even some casino employees asked us where we got our hats. In your gift shop, we replied. Strangers wanted to know what the occasion was when Mary and I would point to Gail and announce it was her birthday. "Well, Happy Birthday!" they would tell Gail.

While we ate at the buffet, a man holding a small child approached us to check out our hats. He said his son was distracted during his dinner saying, "Look at the hats, Daddy, look at the hats!" So he brought his son over for a closer look. He asked what the occasion was and said he and his wife were in the band in the casino bar area and invited us to stop by after the concert and they would sing "Happy Birthday" for us.

Mary said the hats were for those who needed their center-of-attention fix. Perhaps, it was just what the three of us 40-year-old moms needed.

After dinner we were just in time for the Mark Wills concert. It was intimate seating. We had perfect, cheap seats. I couldn't believe I had heard some of his songs and love them, especially, "19 Somethin'" and "Don't Laugh At Me." The concert was most impressive to me because Wills was so down to earth, he chatted with the crowd and he has a great sense of humor.

After the concert, he signed autographs, talked and took pictures with his fans. Because of the hats, a group asked us to ask Mark what kind of cologne he was wearing. Because of the hats, we asked.

The hats created a new open community full of communication. We were on a roll.

We strolled over to the bar where we were greeting with the band serenading Gail. Gail took a picture of the band to put in her scrapbook. In seconds, three security guards were around us. One asked if we took a photo and told us not to do it again. Oops, we forgot, no cameras in the casino.

We talked, laughed and danced. We had a great time. Life begins at 40... especially if you are wearing the hat.