Magic. It was what my mother lived for. We’d go to a magical place, a party, a carnival, a world apart where clowns appeared and juggled balls, where ballerinas danced on horses under the fantasy lights in the middle of the ring, and the music tinkled and waved like the ocean, organic and beautiful, beneath the dance.
We’d go to the circus, to every fair and carnival that came to town. She’d seek out people who led magical lives – this woman an artist who created colors and scenes, that one who lived on an estate in the hills, with butlers and stables and groomsmen – and she herself would sew her fantasies. Dresses of Hong Kong silk, suits to copy Chanel, any costume I could think of for Halloween, she would make it. One year I was a storybook doll in a gold satin dress and a box with a window in it that I carried over my head. I had powdered hair and Marie Antoinette makeup, including the beauty mole. The next year I was Batman, all black satin and mysterious with a mask. I always won the costume prize.
We’d go to the ocean, to that magical land called Cape Cod, the place we would dream about all year round and hear about in a voice laced with longing and wonder. The people there were so quaint, they talked in those enchanting Massachusetts accents, they had names like Nickerson and Sears, and their families had been there fishing and sailing and owning stores and driving milk trucks for centuries.
She went to college during the depression and majored in costume design. Her father, a good puritan, always disapproved of this frivolous pursuit, but he supported her anyway, his charming and beautiful daughter who was named after the love of his life, her beautiful mother who died in childbirth. She was the child of that mythical mother. And so she knew, in some unconscious way, that she had to be beautiful and charming. She had to be magic.