My homemade Purim poncho
I might have been a Jewish Martha Stewart if fate had been kinder to me. I used to watch with envy as she placed her rose-scented candles on the needlepoint tablecloth in the centre of which were the exquisite paper flowers she crafted. In my fantasy, I imagine my own dinner table now ready for the chopped liver, with braised lamb shanks, kasha pilaf and apple kugel, which would be served on my designer Star of David ceramic plates. Blossoms of fresh orchids from my greenhouse would fill the room. And it would be a good thing.
It is to my chagrin, however, that domestic tasks have never been my forte. Instead, I learned to deflect sizzling hockey pucks from four older brothers as they practised their shots on goal on the frozen North End streets of Winnipeg. I couldn’t whip up a chocolate brownie, but I could power a strike ball for the boys baseball team. I would likely have made a slam-dunk career in basketball if not for my growth spurt maxing out at five feet at an early age.
But, as I became an adult, stopping a puck, throwing a baseball or shooting baskets were no longer in demand. Domestic tasks became the necessity of life and I had few skills. I did manage to accumulate some basic cooking skills, however, and, to date, none of my family has succumbed to starvation.
Now, the task of sewing is a different ball of yarn. What little I learned, I picked up in school. I still remember the pained look on the face of my Grade 7 teacher as I zigzagged the hemline on the proverbial apron running it through the sewing machine. Nonetheless, my lack of proficiency with domestic skills had not interfered greatly in my life – that is, until I became a mother. Then it all came to a flashpoint!
My then-5-year-old daughter, who was attending Peretz School at the time, needed a costume for their annual Purim carnival. She, the little princess, wanted to be a queen – Queen Esther, no less. Oh sure, I’ll just whip up a queen’s costume as soon as I finish the cheese soufflé, the salmon mousse, chocolate-coated orange peels and homemade halvah. What to do? Well, creativity helps where skills fail. I pondered that maybe I could pick up a large piece of fancy material, cut a hole in the middle, and then throw the whole thing over her head, like a poncho.
So, for the first time in my life I found myself in a fabric store like a rookie at a textiles Superbowl. I looked and felt and touched, feigning expertise. Eventually, I settled on a rich red satin. I cut out a round hole in the centre using a “dummy” circle for an approximate size of her head. If I was looking for a “dummy,” I could well have used my own head. The hole had to be adjusted several times to make it big enough to actually get her head through it. The biggest problem, however, was the edges. They were frayed all around and still needed something more to dress it up.
After another search, I discovered long strands of sequins sold by the yard. Exactly what I needed! I chose gold. Very royal, I thought. Much to my surprise, I still remembered the basic back and hemstitch from my sewing class – not a total loss. With needle and thread, I painstakingly stitched on the sequins around the neck and all the edges (I knew enough not to have her head in it at the time). After numerous hours, with bleary, red, irritated eyes, stitch by stitch, it was done.
“What will I wear for a crown?” whined my unappreciative daughter. Once again, I called on some inner resources for inspiration. I found an expandable holder used for tying hair back in a knot or bun. It was gold-coloured metal dotted with decorative “pearls.” When it was fully extended, it sat on the top of her little head like a crown. She loved it! Perfect!
We were ready. Her long, blonde hair flowed softly over her simple red satin poncho gilded with gold sequins, and her greenish-blue eyes sparkled like the “crown” on her head. She was a queen! A blonde Queen Esther!
The party was already in full swing when we arrived, with blue-and-white streamers and balloons lining the walls and ceiling. Chattering children were milling about in all kinds of wonderful outfits. Although her costume was not as elaborate as many, she blended with the others and joined in the games, sang Purim songs and ate hamantashen. At the end of the afternoon, everyone was told to gather around because the judges were ready to announce the winners of the contest.
But before I could answer my own question, I heard them announce, “The winner for the best girls costume is Queen Esther.”
“Who?” I whispered under my breath in disbelief.
“Queen Esther!” they called again, as if responding to me personally.
With astonishment, I watched, tears welling in my eyes, as my daughter scrambled onto the stage of the school auditorium for her special moment. I was delighted for her, but bursting with pride for me. It had not been my goal but turned out to be my slam-dunk. This small victory was my personal triumph. I was a Martha Stewart after all. Well, a Jewish Martha Stewart, or maybe substitute Miriam Silver? Regardless, it was a good thing.
Libby Simon, MSW, worked in child welfare services prior to joining the Child Guidance Clinic in Winnipeg as a school social worker and parent educator for 20 years. Also a freelance writer, her writing has appeared in Canada, the United States, and internationally, in such outlets as Canadian Living, CBC, Winnipeg Free Press, PsychCentral and Cardus, a Canadian research and educational public policy think tank.