Sometimes people say to me "Kate, what was your childhood like?" And I usually trot out this story, because really, it seems to explain it best.
It was 1986, and the film Amadeus has rocked the world two years before. We belonged to a church that deemed movies sinful in the theater but acceptable in your home VCR. With four children time ran slowly for my parents and while they had seen Amadeus on U of E's stage they had not yet rented the movie, though it was exactly their cup of tea.
Our local museum, The Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, landed a stop on the tour of the Amadeus costumes. My whole family went and my mother, a consumate seamstress, was DIZZY at the sight of all the luxuriously beautiful costumes, particularly the filmy white dress Constanze wore to a party, complete with a large headdress shaped like a swan.
She looked at her three oldest children, and at the display of richly constructed costumes, and began hatching a plan.
My mother decided that this year, the three oldest children would dress as the main characters from Amadeus for Halloween. Now mind you, I was the oldest, and I was 9 years old. Most kids my age were going as Jem from Holograms.
But the Sopers were no ordinary family, and we were not going to wear any ordinary Halloween costumes. Our costumes were ALWAYS either sewn from scratch or hobbled together from the thrift store. There were no flammable plastic tunics printed with a graphic of our hero and some chintzy plastic mask. Nay. When my brother Ian was Superman, he wore a combination of t-shirt, shorts, a homemade cape and MY blue tights. I was forbidden to give anyone this information, even though I was dying to.
For Constanza, mom found a pattern featuring a square neckline, elbow sleeves trimmed in lace, and a pannier, which is basically a poofy, drapy section of fabric swathed across the front. A very reasonable facsimile of the original. She found a white fabric embroidered with shimmery dots and fashioned the dress in two pieces, a large bow in the front. It was simply gorgeous.
For Salieri, a simple black cape was sewn to complement a pair of plain back pants and a black shirt. One of those creepy semi-sheer face masks with pastel accents was spray-painted black to represent the theater mask, and when mom couldn't find a tri-corner hat, she MADE ONE. No. I'm not kidding. She bent some wire, an old clothes hanger perhaps, into a frame, draped it with black fabric and voila!
Mom raided my closet for Mozart's attire. My loose, ruffled purple jacket that went over my Easter dress worked as a flamboyant overcoat...my high-necked blouse with a ruffle at the neck and sleeve and cravat-styled bow, with subtle shimmery stripes of maroon and silver, my maroon corduroy knickers, white tights and even my brown shoes worked brilliantly as the attire for a flamboyantly dressed dandy in the 1700s. And since we didn't have a powered wig laying around she made one of those too. Seriously. Out of cardboard tubes wrapped in white yarn, and a black velvet ribbon.
Mom saw all she had done and was pleased.
So pleased was she with this grand scheme that she decided that Halloween was not enough. We needed a grander stage, a wider audience.
We needed The Pet Parade.
The Pet Parade happened the last day of the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival. I had not known of it's existence, but apparently our lack of pet did not preclude our involvement. There were categories for groups without pets. And so that morning we dressed in our carefully sewn and selected costumes. My mother took my long brown hair and wound it around a puff of polyester fiber fill, and curled the remaining hair into long banana curls, what we now call an Amy Winehouse. Ed carried a folder with the words "The Magic Flute" written on it to provide a clue to our identities in case our resplendence was not enough.
But when we arrived...we found our group to be viewed as a bit of a motley crew. Despite careful planning, my mother had failed to realize that in our working class west side neighborhood our interests and entertainment choices were the exception, not the rule.
We were stared at, in puzzlement, until finally a brave soul inquired about our identities and we had to tell them the truth.
No, we are not Cinderella
and Darth Vader.
Good guess though.