I've been known to shed new light on a particular topic, even told to let my light shine, but only once can I recall being truly brilliant, and the credit belongs to my parents.
It was October, and I was in the fourth grade. A very special event for our school was the annual Halloween party where students in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades were invited to design costumes for prizes and special awards. At this age, help from parents was allowed, and in fact encouraged. The only requirement: The costume must be made, not purchased. Over the years, if the truth be known, parents began plotting their ideas long before their children even reached these grades. And so it was that my parents asked what I wanted to be for Halloween.
My response, that I planned to be the most beautiful princess in the world, was not exactly what my father wanted to hear. He had visions of some woodworker's extravaganza (his hobby) with musical overtones (his profession), and was hard pressed to look very enthusiastic about my selection.
After all, this was the man who had transformed one brother into a box of popcorn, complete with fresh kernels and the smell of melted butter. Another year, my younger brother delighted the judges as a miniature version of a working (and walking) pipe organ. But ever the peacemaker (not to mention an extremely capable seamstress), my mother offered a solution acceptable to us all, and the project was dubbed, not surprisingly, brilliant!
FIRST my mother gathered yards and yards of crepe paper in soft shades of pink and white, then intricately pieced them together to form a grand ball gown for yours truly. She twisted bits of the pliable paper into hundreds of tiny rosebuds to grace the neck and sleeves and hold garlands of white ribbons that encircled the full skirt. Part of a wire cage, used in the summer to train tomatoes, was transformed into a hoop for my paper skirt. Thinking ahead, my mother designed the skirt section to be removable so I could participate in the apple bobbing and other activities of the evening. (Stories were legendary about students who came dressed as boxes of cereal, only to become wedged in the doorway trying to enter the auditorium.)
Meanwhile, out in the garage, my father was devising his own artistry with a long wooden dowel, electrical tape, and some batteries. He would periodically interrupt me as I did my homework so he could measure me for some part of the project. Then, with pencil clenched in his teeth, he would nod his approval and return to his workshop.
The night of my final fitting arrived. I was assured that neither parent would embarrass me, and that indeed I would go to the party dressed as a princess. First, my father secured the wooden dowel to my back, spanning from just above the floor to a foot over my head. The dowel slipped into a cotton sleeve my mother had fashioned at the back of my T-shirt. Electrical tape added additional support at the waist and back.
Daddy then "wired" my waist with a battery pack that would be hidden by my hoop skirt. Wire ran up my back, out to my right fingertips, returned along my arm, then up the dowel to the top. Next the paper bodice was fitted to me, and I was lowered into the hoop skirt. Large snaps at my waist attached it to the bodice. The final touch was the light bulb and a lampshade, decorated to match my "gown" and secured to the top of the dowel above my head. When all was in place, Daddy turned off all the living room lights, positioned me in front of a full-length mirror, and asked me to flick the switch at my wrist. Voil! A perfect princess - lamp! The moment was captured on movie film, and I danced with delight.
My trip to the school auditorium the following evening was uneventful, if not a bit odd looking. I was dressed in jeans, a T-shirt covered with a crepe-paper bodice, socks, and my white patent-leather flats, while the balance of the costume was carefully settled next to me on the back seat. Final assemblage took place in the school parking lot where other busy adults similarly transformed their offspring for the grand entrance.
As we children paraded around the auditorium, proud parents consumed huge quantities of flash cubes to record the moment. My parents won first prize for "most creative costume," and I was entitled to one full presentation walk with the other winners. During it, the lights were extinguished briefly so my light could truly shine. The look of loving adoration from my parents was the only thing brighter.