My mother and I recently watched The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button together. Towards the end of the film, with the winds and rains of Hurricane Katrina threatening to break in the windows of a New Orleans hospital room in which her old mother lies dying, Julia Ormond’s Caroline discovers that Benjamin Button was her father. As Caroline goes through birthday cards from her dad, ones she has never seen until August 29th 2005, it all becomes too much to bear. Even while growing backwards and getting younger, death waited for Benjamin Button, as it did for Caroline’s mother and thousands of New Orleanians that fateful day. Why are we given so much life and story only for it to be taken away?
She left us one year ago today. I would give anything to kiss her cheek one more time. To inhale that smell again as lips touch soft, warm skin. To watch her rail-thin hand sweep over the folds of her beautiful sari after I’ve scrunched it to kiss her. All I have left now is the honor of having known her.
No, that’s not all that remains. This does.
My grandmother had a very full life in which she realized much. If I have a regret for her, it is that she was not costumer and set decorator to the stars. With the freedom she had, however, Patti costumed us (often with no reason – “the idea came to me”) and decorated our homes for religious functions, and did it all with little more than leftover scraps and household objects. Only she could turn the cardboard inside paper towel rolls into replicas of royal chariots and incorporate any construction item you gave her into an heirloom-quality decoration. Room dividers, diadems, spears, belts, portraits, sculptures of gods, all you had to do was ask for it and she would find a way to make it. And she loved sequins, glitter and the color green.
Each year, and I like to think living in New Orleans brought out my grandmother’s creativity in me, I make a Mardi Gras Day mask from scratch. This year’s mask, the one you see above, was dedicated to her. Patti would love for me to share with you how to make one of your own. It’s quite simple, actually.
1) MASK BASE: Purchase a Phantom of the Opera mask base or cut out the pattern from a plain plastic mask.
2) FABRIC COVER: Glue and staple textured satin onto the mask, as shown on right. Make sure the satin is a) the same color as the glitter you will put over it and b) rough in order for the glitter to adhere to the fabric. Given that the mask has topography, you will have to cut out excess satin at the folds. In this case, I cut out material that would go under the gold cord. Use any remaining strips of satin to paste over the staples’ prongs in the back. (Then again, if you scratch up your face like that, you have a mask to put over it). Carefully drill or poke holes in the nostrils of the mask so you can breathe while wearing it (details).
3) CORDS & RIBBONS: Fasten any extra embellishments, e.g. cords, buttons, feathers, sequins, to the mask before applying the glitter. (It’s really hard to get anything to stick to glitter other than more glitter.) Also, at this time, staple on the ribbons that will secure the mask to your head. Pick points on the mask that will allow the ribbons to encircle your head and securely. Don’t worry about any ribbon showing on the front of the mask because you will apply glitter over it.
4) GLUE THAT GLITTER ON: Aleene’s Tacky Glue is your friend. I own enough bottles of this gummy goodness to glue a whole big parade float together. It goes on white, but dries clear, so if you mistakenly get it all over parts of your project for which you didn’t intend it, wipe off the bulk of it and wait for the rest of it to dry. (Such things have never happened to me, of course.) With clean fan brushes of different sizes, apply glue to the fabric, one strip between cords at a time. Make the layer of glue thick enough to grab the glitter but not so thin that it catches nothing. As soon as you apply one layer of glue, tap a shaker of glitter onto the glue. Again, if you accidentally drop too much glitter on the glue, simply blow off the excess or lightly brush it onto unglittered areas. Allow it to dry for a few hours before applying the finishing touches. See picture on left for dried, glittered end product.
5) ACCENTS: For this mask, I decided to add accents where the ribbons meet the mask. I bought two small wooden fleur-de-lis appliques (available at most craft stores), spray-painted them gold and attached them to the mask with velcro tape.
6) SEAL YOUR MASK: (Take the mask outside, place it on newspaper and) spray it down with glossy Clear Coat Sealant Spray. Allow it to dry for an hour or so and then spray it again. The fumes coming off the sealant can take down a full-grown Canadian elk, so I recommend keeping that mask somewhere dry and aerated until you wear it.
This life sucks for snatching away the ones we we love after giving us so much time in which to fall in love and grow closer. It is also an alarmingly beautiful thing for the relationships it fosters, the ones that make us and continue to define us from beyond. The masks and costumes sure don’t replace my grandma, but they help me feel very close to her, as I draw inspiration and comfort from wondering what fabric and colors she would have chosen. Through her artfulness, the world still gets to know my grandmother. And I get to know her more.