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Don your bonnet

Helen Flynn could wear a different hat to church every Sunday for more than a year and a half, and her fellow congregants would never see the same one twice.

She is still debating what hat she will wear for Easter Sunday this year. Will it be the bright yellow one with the yellow jacket to match? Or maybe the lime green one, or the silver one, or the lavender one, or the fuchsia one, or the red one with red and black fringe.

Those are only a fraction of her options. There are small ones and large ones, floppy brims and flowers, sequins and feathers, vintage headbands and open-tops, animal print and military fatigue print.

There are 84 hats in all, and her Nansemond Parkway-area home is bursting at the seams.

“If she gets one more hat, she’s going to move me out,” said Francis Flynn, her husband.

Helen Flynn, a retired motivational speaker, started collecting her hats about three years ago.

“Every suit that I purchase, I make sure I have a hat that matches it,” Flynn said. “I have all colors. I have all sizes. I always get compliments on them.”

Flynn has acquired her hats from a number of sources. She bought some in consignment shops in her native Chicago. She orders some from boutiques, and even has inherited some from fellow East End Baptist Church members who are now wearing their crown of gold.

The hat she wears most often, though, came from a most unlikely place.

Her son, U.S. Air Force Maj. Kevin Haywood, sent her pictures wearing his fatigue hat during a tour of service in Iraq. True to form, Flynn wanted a hat like her son’s.

“I said, ‘I really like that hat, can you send it to me?’” Flynn said.

Soon, she received a fatigue-print hat in the mail, embroidered with her name, her son’s name, and “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” People frequently stop her and ask where it came from, she said. When she tells them, they ask, “Do you think he could send me one?”

Flynn’s love of hats came from her mother, she said, who always wore a hat wherever she went.

“I remember one time she took us to an amusement park, and my mother had on a hat,” Flynn said. “I can remember thinking, ‘Why is she wearing a hat to an amusement park?’”

These days, Flynn sometimes goes out sans headdress, but enjoys the tradition of wearing a hat.

“You just don’t see women with hats on anymore,” Flynn said. “They still make beautiful hats.”