As I mention in my book, my sister Bertie and I loved to make our own playthings. For instance, we were in love with the TV puppet show, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and we made replicas of all the puppets and put on our own shows. Ma got us some got fake leopard fur to make Ollie the dragon, and we made Kukla’s round head from a hollow rubber ball.
Ma had taught us how to sew by hand, and how to make a doll out of a sock. Bertie and I had endless hours of fun making dolls out of our old socks and then making clothes for them. I had some brown socks and made a doll I named “Cocoa.” Once I pretended she had her period and made her a miniature Modess sanitary pad out of cotton and gauze. I even put a little piece of blue thread down the middle to show which side was up, the way they did with the real pads back then.
Later on Ma taught us how to use the sewing machine too, and by the time we were in high school we were already making some of our own clothes.
I remember one Halloween there was a costume contest at a school party. I went all out to try to win first prize. Ma gave me some old white sheets and I dyed them red and painted designs on them with gold paint. I sewed them into a Balinese dancer costume. I made everything myself, including the headdress, and I thought it looked really great — I was sure I was going to win. But on Halloween night, much to my disappointment, a cute little blond girl wearing a store-bought witch costume from Woolworth’s won first prize. But even though I was angry and thought it was unfair, I didn’t let this squelch my natural desire to create things from scratch.
When Pop was home and more or less sober and in a good mood, he taught me and Bertie how to use a hammer, a saw, and a wood plane, and that was another creative outlet for us. We learned how to make little boxes and boats, and we built our own puppet stage. A lot of the skills we learned stood us in good stead later on, too, when we grew up and had our own homes to furnish and kids to dress. To this day, I love trying to make “something” out of “nothing” or a “silk purse” out of a “sow’s ear.”