“I always say to people when they lose someone, ‘Now you have an angel you can call by name,'” Oprah Winfrey
Before my friend Janice passed away I had very little knowledge or experience with after-death communication. Looking back now I realize that those times in my youth where I would suddenly smell that distinct aroma of my grandmother’s home… baking pie, cinnamon, pipe tobacco and just a hint of talcum powder, that it had to be Grandma popping in to say hello. Or those incredibly vivid dreams when I would awaken from sitting at the table and drinking tea with my Grandpa, and know that he had come for a nice nighttime visit. Back then I attributed things like that to coincidence, or imagination, or just too strange to be true.
But then Janice crossed over in such a dramatic fashion and I was simply jarred awake to a new level of perception. In the months that followed I would experience communications and signs that would leave no doubt in my mind that Janice was reaching across the veil and carrying on the conversation we’d started here on this earthly plain.
Way back when my daughter was 7 years old she became involved in a production of Les Miserables put on by our local high school theatre company. I would pick her up and drop her off at rehearsals and was always very impressed by the dedicated teachers and volunteers who worked tirelessly with this big group of kids. I had been a theatre major in University and it was years since I had taken part in anything theatrical. I asked my girl to let me know if she heard of anyone needing help because I would be happy to volunteer. I was suddenly very excited to get involved in the theatre again after so many years. Just as long as it wasn’t costumes. I hated doing costuming.
“Mama, this lady needs help”, my daughter pulled me by the hand and introduced me to Janice. Bazinga! Instant recognition. We were laughing and joking within the first five minutes, and I knew that I was going to have a great time working with her.
And of course, she was the Costume Designer. Sigh. Ahhhh well, it was time to dust off the sewing machine, load up the glue gun and fire up the bedazzler, because apparently I was going to make some costumes.
We worked closely together for the next few years. Janice was the brilliant visionary, pulled by the creative muse that had her flitting from project to project haphazardly. I was the organizer. I kept her on task (some of the time), looking after the details so that she could concentrate on the BIG PICTURE. We were the perfect pair. I was the Laurel to her Hardy, the Captain to her Tenille, the Tweedle Dum to her Tweedle Dee. Through production after production we worked diligently, getting hundreds of costumes built, compiled, organized, fitted, ironed, hung up, cleaned and stored away. The tasks were daunting but we had a group of willing and able volunteers to work with us and show after show we managed to get it all done and looking pretty damn good, too.
But then…. Janice left this world suddenly, during intermission at Beauty and the Beast. One moment we were laughing together and the next she was gone. Aortic aneurism, they told us. It was instant and painless, and she was doing what she most loved in the world. Her last moments of this lifetime were spent in pure joy. We would have chosen to keep her here with us many more years, but as far as exits go, she picked a great one.
After the immediacy of the departure, we were faced with getting through the production, helping the kids handle their shock and grief, helping to plan the celebration of her life, and the myriad details that all of those things entailed. The next few weeks were a blur. Catching our breath, the three remaining members of the production team began to consider the future. Who would be the new costume designer? Would we even be able to continue on as we had been, mounting productions with 100 + kids? Janice had been a vital part of the team and how could we go on without her expertise?
And that is how I became a Costume Designer. I volunteered. And they gratefully accepted. What the heck had I gotten myself into?
The spring production was Anything Goes. The size of the cast was just under 100. The number of costumes needed would be over 400 and of that number about 200 would have to be created from scratch. I would need to learn how to design a sailor uniform that could be mass produced, design a full, matching wardrobe for Reno Sweeney and her Angels, source 40 pair of tap shoes and keep it all under budget. Oh yes. And work full time at my day job while doing it all.
What me, worry?
Funny things happen when you have an Angel on your side. I began noticing little things. I would think to myself, “I sure would like to get some matching fur coats for Reno’s gals” then *poof* I would walk into the thrift store and find 4 matching vintage minks for $20 each. I would need a pin striped gangster suit with matching hat and *shazam* there would be one in the perfect size hanging up with the randomly donated graduation dresses. Capes, bonnets, bows, velvet, sequins, knowledge, volunteers, sailor hats, and everything I needed or wanted began to show up in the craziest ways.
There is one thing that still makes me shake my head in wonder. I needed a long length of fake white fur, about 3 inches wide, to trim out one of Reno’s travel outfits. I had just designed the outfit and not surprisingly the perfect polka dot fabric had shown up in the clearance bin at the fabric shop, the exact right hat had fallen off the top shelf of the costume storage locker and the coolest brass sailor buttons had shown up in my sewing basket (I still don’t know where they came from). I was rummaging through bags of notions that Janice had stored in her basement. I pulled out a big bag and inside was, you guessed it, white fake fur. But the really amazing thing? It was a long strip of 3 inch wide fabric that was the exact perfect length to finish Reno’s outfit. I kid you not.
For many more productions, projects and creations I have enjoyed Janice’s help. She always seems to bring me what I need, helps me figure out how to create what is needed and never stops making me laugh at her shenanigans.
And sometimes I still hear her giggling in my ear, “Suck it up buttercup, it’s time to get things done”.