Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Mother of Invention

Though I get no credit in the paper, the photo of the upside-down clown in this October 1977 issue of The Mini Page is me. The Mini Page is now syndicated and appears in 500 newspapers worldwide, but it originated in Raleigh the same year I was born.
Beyond circumstantial proof, I submit a more recent photo of the papier-mâché clown head that was part of the costume. I rediscovered it this year while cleaning out junk from the house I grew up in. While posting this photo, I noticed a happy coincidence that in the background you can see a basket full of thread and sewing notions that belonged to my mom...

My mom died of a stroke in 1997. I missed her greatly on my wedding day, but besides the monumental stuff like that, I miss that I never really got to know her as an adult. As I've grown older, there are questions I would have liked to have asked her. Things like, "What was it like to move 500 miles to Raleigh at the age of 34 after having lived your entire life in a small mountain town in Western Pennsylvania?"

I can only imagine. Though I was only three years old, I believe I have a vague memory of the move. It was in the summer. I think we stopped for gas just after crossing the border into North Carolina. Being late afternoon in the summertime in NC, it was 90-something degrees and a thunderstorm had just passed. Steam was rising from the pavement like a sauna, and as we all climbed out of the car to pee, our Yankee lungs were struck by the difficulty in breathing in the impressively oppressive humid air.

"Ugh! Is this what it's like here?!" my nine-year-old brother Bob wondered aloud for all of us.

In 1972, Raleigh didn't even have "liquor by the drink." Southern ladies did not accompany their menfolk to bars, and they didn't work as waitresses, but my mom did both. She worked the lunch counter at Mayberry's ice cream and later at Lock, Stock & Barrel -- both located at the shopping center within walking distance of our house. She didn't like to drive much. But she had four kids to feed and clothe, and working lunches while we went to school afforded her time to cook and sew.

We didn't have extra money lying around, but in hindsight, we sure ate well. (Remind me to blog later on about the birthday cakes!) And though we kids would have balked at wearing handmade clothing then, which she knew, we all wore with pride the costumes she created for us at Halloween.

I am sure I have spoken before about having come from a family of costume contest winners. Unfortunately, I can't ask Mom whether this trait originated with her or if she inherited it from her family. I do know my aunts and uncles were enthusiastic celebrators of holidays. Regardless, I believe all my immediate family members have won at least one Halloween costume contest, with the possible exception of Pete, who seemed more concerned with the "trick" part of trick-or-treating.

When I was eight or nine, Mom made me a Princess Leia costume involving a white robe made from a sheet and a wig made from brown yarn braided and swirled in circles and glued to a shower cap. I don't think I ever entered a contest with that one, but I loved it.

A few years later, she made an E.T. costume from a pattern, but she only had time to sew the head and hands before Halloween, so, again, white sheet to the rescue! She dressed like E.T. in his ghost costume. Yet that wasn't clever enough, because, as I learned from her example, excellent costumes incorporate two extra factors: details and the ability to act the part. She added a pouch to E.T.'s chest and inserted a glowstick for his glowing heart. And she made one of the fingers in his glove long enough to support a penlight that she could operate at will to act the part and "heal" people with her lighted fingertip.

Another year, she had a notion to make Kermit and Miss Piggy costumes because she found their patterns at the fabric store. She asked Dad if he would wear the costumes with her as a couple. His answer:"Only if I can be Miss Piggy."

The memory of painting my father's toenails purple was seared onto my 12-year-old brain never to be erased. The unfortunate consequence of getting the details right.

A funny thing about my mom - she never thought she was creative. Of the delicious and almost-too-pretty-to-eat birthday cakes she lavished on us, she would claim she was just following a recipe. Of the costumes, just sewing a pattern. Never mind all the embellishments and details she added. Never mind the inspiration and commitment to see them through to completion.

But what about the countless, unique, FUN holiday memories she created for her four kids, whom she also created?

I went searching through The Mini Page archives to find the issue I was in as a child. I was amused to discover that issue was all about witches, but I was disappointed I got no credit.

But it's Mom who deserves all the credit.


  1. What a beautiful tribute to your amazing mom. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Thanks for reminding us what a wonderful woman your mom was. During our teenage years when most of us were couldn't care less about the adults around us, your mother was always amazing to us. Her cooking, her cakes, her sewing, and most especially the way she looked at life. I am sure she was loved by all us kids.
    I miss you too, Dot.