The new sheriff in town. (MARGARET O’MARA PHOTO)
Is it a good idea to crochet a bikini?
My mother thought so and my debut as a bikini model was at the public pool. My mom and I walked in hand in hand, she wearing whatever the mom fashion was and me wrapped in yarn knots. I slid into the pool and my thirsty bathing suit gulped water and grew, yarn bursting and knots giving, my bikini exploding out and off my body in an instant.
I screamed and my mom came running to wrap me in a towel. The remains of my bikini came to life about a foot under the water’s surface, amorphous blobs rolling with the pool’s currents like jellyfish.
I was young enough that I’m the only one scarred by this wardrobe malfunction.
And there was the year I was dressed as a pumpkin for Halloween. I wore green tights and a mom-made pumpkin suit of voluminous orange fabric with elastic neck, arm and leg holes. The costume was made round by stuffing it with balloons, so I couldn’t sit without sudden, shocking deflation. After I stood in the bushes (aka the pumpkin patch) for pictures, we took off for a party. I spent the car ride standing in the back seat, keeping myself upright by holding on to the driver’s seat headrest.
I inherited my mother’s creative exuberance and attention to detail.
I threw myself into unconventional Halloween costume design. One year I was a Band-Aid box, the next I was a tube of toothpaste. The town I grew up in has old houses with closed-in porches and narrow doors. I made the Band-Aid box frame so wide I couldn’t trick-or-treat fully. I had to wait on the walk and hope my friends would get me top-shelf candy like Baby Ruth or Hershey’s and not stick me with the candy corn. The tube of toothpaste was great except the bottom of the tube was so pinched I spent the evening doing a bouncy shuffle from house to house with the white bucket cap rattling on my shoulders, the cutout for my eyes endlessly shifting out of place.
My garbage can costume was nearly an award winner. My mom and I cut a hole through the bottom of a round laundry basket, lined the inside with a garbage bag, and painted the outside to look like a can. I stepped in and we hung it off my shoulders with my dad’s suspenders. My mom cleaned and attached trash until my can runneth over — milk cartons, yogurt containers, bunched-up paper towels and even a banana peel. I went to the town parade to march in all my garbagy glory and the judges for the costume contest even took down my name. When the parade ended, I cut a path through the crowd to head toward home and trick-or-treating. People I passed stuffed their coffee cups and wrappers, their real trash, into my carefully curated costume.
Did my costumes need to be more scary and less utilitarian? Had I known about the importance of having a sexy Halloween, could I have been a sexy garbage can? I’ll never know because I gave up costume making after my crowning achievement.
Many Augusts ago, my brother and sister-in-law had their first baby girl. I met her for the first time that October and when my brother said he wanted her Halloween costume to be “the new sheriff in town,” my creative engine sparked. We plotted, shopped and sewed. My 2-month-old niece cried and kicked through costume fittings, but when it came together, she was the law of the land and I retired from costume making.
My mom’s single greatest creative triumph is a doll that was destined for the trash bin. She was making it for me and scrapped it when she wasn’t happy with her work. I found the doll, adopted her, named her Pebbles and carried her everywhere for years. I loved her so well that her fabric body became threadbare and broken. Sometimes, her arms, legs and even her head would fall off. Pebbles was stuffed with old pantyhose and the nylon legs would bleed out of her wounds. My mom was afraid the stockings would strangle me in the night, so she performed surgeries on Pebbles as I slept and returned her to my bed before I woke in the morning.
I loved Pebbles and I wonder whether, if she’d been pattern-perfect, she’d have been so perfect to me.
Fashion designers know how to construct clothes so your kid doesn’t end up naked in the pool. That’s important.
What my mom always knew and I know because of her is that love fills the holes in any plan. And that is everything.
Note to my mom: Yes, I agree that crochet bathing suits are high fashion, are in all the magazines and you were ahead of your time.
Erin O’Mara lives in Harpswell and serves on the Harpswell News Board of Directors.