The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Beyond The Picket Fence

by Sherryanne De La Boise


An Easter basket wrapped in cellophane brings on a memory flood. Of an old-school dry goods store in my college town, where I bought my first roll of cellophane. Long boards of tongue and groove wooden floors with small gaps, where the width of the boards had shrunk. I remember the creaking, as I walked across them. I recall the smell of the musty dust of things on high shelves. A wide staircase to the mezzanine and a pressed tin ceiling. This store did not sell off its inventories at the end of every season, so it was a treasure hunt of things from decades past, like repair straps for garter belts or no longer played games, as well as thick, thick sheets of cellophane.

My roommate, Tina, and I purchased rolls and rolls of their cellophane. "Are you starting a gift basket service?" the saleslady inquired. Actually, we were making Halloween costumes. The saleslady wrote our receipt out by hand. The original was taken to the register for payment, while her "book" kept a carbon copy, the piece of carbon used over and over. Our purchases were carried to my car by a wiry man. Ladies would not even think of carrying parcels, horrors! The saleslady suggested we drive to the nearby Dennison cellophane factory, which we did (that adventure is a whole article in itself), loading the car up with end run rolls of brilliant colors of sturdy cellophane, while horrifying the factory workers with our plans.

Used a warm iron and parchment paper given to us by the college's generous food service folks. They were very good to me, after they found out that I was hoarding the individually sliced teaspoons of butter to have two cups of butter" that's 48 of them" and 48 sugar packets, to be able to bake cookies in a solar cooker that I had rigged up out of my dormitory window. Successful the first attempt, with the second attempt being raided by a marauding squirrel. Said squirrel eventually figured out how to shake the screen open and eat my roommate's stash of crackers in such a messy fashion that Tina was beginning to wonder about me, until the culprit was caught…

But, back to the topic, cellophane: We ironed pleats, darts and tucks for seven dresses of cellophane in blue, yellow, orange, pink, green, purple and red. Four women (high school girl, college woman) piled into my car and drove to Brown University to party with our four dates. We only made 7 costumes, because we knew that Francisco was particular and would not don a dress. Yes, three boys wore these outrageous cellophane dresses! The eight of us crashed a Halloween party at the Rhode Island School of Design. We were on the stage, about to be presented with all of the prizes for our outrageously creative costumes, when the faculty realized we were not RISDy students. They kicked us out of the party, but not before giving our prize money to a bunch of grapes.

The cellophane dress construction actually started a couple of months earlier. Wellesley College was hosting an inaugural ball, under a huge tent on the academic green, for its new President. Students were frantically calling home to be mailed a prom dress, graduation dress, anything formal. Some mothers packed off bridesmaid dresses. Those of us with sewing skills became very popular, but there was nothing I could do for the woman with the bridesmaid dress from the psychedelic ‘60's, complete with a halter top, bare mid-rift and maxi skirt.

Tina decided that she was going to make her own dress. And that is where the Wellesley blue cellophane came into play. She wore a thick black slip underneath, so if it self-destructed, she would be able to make her getaway in a socially acceptable "little black dress." Because the cellophane dress was fragile, her date went ahead of her, through the crowd, yelling, "Hot Soup Coming Through… Please Move Aside… Hot Soup Coming Through."

The crowds would part, and she processed through, head held high, like the Queen of a foreign nation. This created quite a buzz, with the incoming President immediately inviting her to tea.

Tina had oodles of creativity and was always getting me into trouble. Years later, as she was getting married, she sent her four bridesmaids a pattern and the material to have dresses made by our own dressmakers. Not cellophane, although making a cellophane rehearsal dinner dress did cross my mind. The material was beautiful, thick, hand-dyed changeable silk. As it moved and with changes in the light, the material went from deep amaranth pink to fiery carmine red.

Now, Tina's younger sister was very blonde, very tan, very muscular, with wide shoulders and a long neck. She had just returned from crewing on a Marine Biology expedition. On her perfect trim frame, her tea-length dress shimmered a deep rose and was stunning, her tan legs highlighted. The dress plunging low in the back.

Tina's best friend from childhood had gotten in shape for the wedding. She was tall and brunette. This was the 1980's when dresses were tight around the mid-rift with a triangular yoke pointing downward tight over the abdomen and lots of flounces. Her dressmaker had made her dress very tight, accentuating her curvy figure. She looked fabulous in her silk dress.

The other sister was a New York model. Her dressmaker scooped the neckline wide in the front, just barely touching her shoulders, and so deep in the back that she had to roll down the waistband of her pantyhose.

And then there was me, the college roommate. My dressmaker had inverted the flat triangle, pointing it upwards, between my breasts. For, I was 8 months pregnant. There was going to be no deep cut out back, since I was at the stage where a 5 hook bra with inch wide shoulder straps was required. I, too, rolled down the waistband of my panty hose, because it could not get across my burgeoning belly. I waddled down the aisle in fear that the rolled down elastic waistband would capture my underwear and roll right down to the floor, panties and all.

That happened to my Aunt. She was on an elevator when the elastic gave out on her stockings, sending them tumbling. She was carrying an umbrella. She just stepped right out of those stockings, much to the amazement of the seated elevator operator. Then, deposited them into her collapsed umbrella, as she exited the elevator. She forgot all about them until her father used that umbrella and was greeted with a descending pair of panty hose.

But again, I digress. Standing at the end of the line of these beautiful women, my silk dress never seemed to change away from fiery red. With so many flounces and that very protruding belly, Tina had three bridesmaids and one giant tomato.

The next time I was pregnant, I sewed 4" white satin hearts all over that dress and went to a Halloween party as the Queen of Hearts. That is not my usual costume, as I happen to have been the Tooth Fairy since 1979.

I was worried when a movie had a Tooth Fairy (male) dressed in Dentist's whites, that it might change the image of the Tooth Fairy. My costume has paperdoll-like chains of satin teeth sewn onto a gum pink dress; a crown made of toilet paper cardboard centers fashioned into teeth, then painted gold to match my gold heels; and a large back brush, also painted gold, to wave around like a wand. In a high trilling falsetto, I complete the costume by ordering all to, "Brush and Floss. Brush and Floss."

One year, my daughter decided to capture the Tooth Fairy. She set a box on a pencil with the tooth taped in such a way as to cause the box to tumble onto and capture the Tooth Fairy.

"What if Grandma is the Tooth Fairy?" I queried, because this child suspected her.

"I'll have to get a bigger box."

The tooth fairy left a huge mess of glitter and torn cellophane all over the room and a very angry note warning her not to try this on Santa Claus. My little daughter carefully collected all the glitter and cellphone bits, thinking it was fairy dust, akin to the flight potion in Peter Pan. For the next few days, she was sprinkling it on herself and jumping off of bunk beds and bookcases, hoping to fly. Once she realized that when fairy dust turns into glitter, it has gone stale and is no good for flight, I knew I could trust her around open windows again.

For the past decade, I have been trying to not use plastics, which unfortunately, includes the beautiful colored cellophane. But, I think today I am going to purchase a roll of Wellesley blue cellophane and mail it with a note of appreciation for all of the adventures that she brought to my life, to my dear college roommate, Tina.