Raising Quinn meant that November 1st was always just the beginning of costumes. The point of Halloween for her had never been about candy, although she liked it, the point was always to become someone else. A lot of people like dressing up but she retained her costumes or parts of her costumes and wore them into the year. For Quinn almost anything had the potential to become a costume. Once she donned the outfit they were no longer costumes but alter egos. She had many.
Quinn dressed up to turn a chore into an alternate reality. On more than one occasion when I had sent her into the basement to sort the laundry on a Saturday morning I’d discover her dressed in an old dress of mine with her head covered in a scarf, wrapped in a makeshift shawl and kneeling on the cold basement floor, the laundry still unsorted.
“What are you doing?” I would ask wondering why this simple task was taking so long.
“A crust of bread for a poor old washer woman?” she’d plead, as she slowly lifted an article of dirty clothing from one basket to the next. The gesture implied that she didn’t have the strength to carry on.
“Oh for goodness sake,” I’d say. “Just finish up. It’s cold down here.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” she’d croak in an old lady voice. “This is where I live.”
Sitting and reading the Sunday paper you might look up and find her decked out in an outfit that resembled an Italian troubadour, mustache and all. She’d dance a bit and sing old fashioned ditties while twirling a cane and never coming out of character. The character went away when she was good and ready to change.
She’d show up at the dock ready for a swim as Jackie O. complete with glamour glasses, a head scarf and a handbag waiting for the swimmers to look up and notice.
When she was very small she was usually some type of fairy. She wore wings but she rarely flew. She liked to crawl into small places and make them her home: the crawl space, the deck trunk or under a desk. Whenever we traveled and went into a public restroom I could gauge the quality of the bathroom by Quinn’s reaction. If it was nice she would say, “This is our house.”
“That’s your room,” she would say pointing to my stall,“and this is mine.” When we were washing our hands she would add, “This is the kitchen.” If the bathroom was luxurious it was often hard to get her out. She would lounge on one of the couches which represented the living room. I’d have to remind her that Rob and Jackson were waiting for us at the table. When we left the bathroom it instantly ended.
Her characters were never limited to our personal lives but expanded into the larger world. For her ninth birthday all she wanted was an authentic Gryffindor robe. The four of us traveled to Abracadabra on West 21st Street to make the purchase. This in itself isn’t so unusual but Quinn threw away the package before we left the store.
“Oh, you’re not going to wear that?” Jackson protested.
She ignored him and attached the clasp as the long black robe draped over her slight frame and engulfed her. For an added effect she pulled on the hood.
“You’re honestly not going to let her walk around like that,” Jackson said imploringly to Rob and I.
“It is a bit warm,” I suggested.
“Oh what do you care?” Rob asked both of us snapping Quinn’s picture and on we went.
It was a warm September afternoon and she walked the streets and rode the subway as a character from Harry Potter but also looking something like a Druid. It was Manhattan-no one noticed.
Another time she went to Thanksgiving at Rob’s sister’s house dressed as a pilgrim wearing a bonnet, a gray, floor-length dress and a long, white apron. I can only imagine it took some effort to transcend the actual situation and pretend she was in Salem instead of a room full of loud Italians eating lasagna.
As a family we loved to go to Old Sturbridge Village. We liked to stroll the dirt roads through the living museum and talk to the interpreters stationed along the way. We stopped in each building and listened to the actors talk about their day in old New England. The interpreters dress in period costumes and make the 1830’s come alive for the visitor. As interpretive villages go they do a pretty good job. The docents do everything from killing and cooking chickens over an open fire to firing muskets and working as the local tinsmith. Some stay in character and some speak as historians. Tourists snap their picture as they explain the operations of grinding corn in an authentic gristmill or how banks used to function. Visitors often ask the interpreters to pose for a snapshot.
Quinn spent parts of these visits quiet and pensive as she detached herself and imagined living in this village. On one trip she spied a girl’s dress from the era inside the expansive gift shop. I remember it was pretty expensive, so it was going to be a Christmas present. She wore it a lot and liked to trudge across the frozen lake alone with a basket in hand because the conditions were often tough for a young pioneer girl.
The following summer on our now almost annual trip to Old Sturbridge Village, Quinn packed the dress, a prairie bonnet, small handmade basket, a pair of ankle moccasins and her American Girl doll dressed in a similar outfit. In the morning while we were distracted with showers and camera bags she dressed up as Laura Ingalls Wilder or something close to it. She asked me to braid her hair and then gently placed the old fashioned bonnet over her head.
“I am not walking around with her,” Jackson cried as we were getting ready to leave for the museum.
She looked so happy all we could do was tell him to get over it.
“Well don’t walk anywhere near me,” he declared. But after an hour or so she was getting a lot of positive attention and he stopped thinking about it as a bad thing.
At the end of our second day we walked through the covered bridge dodging the horse dung and began the slow shaded climb up from the lake towards the visitors center and gift shop. A woman with two young daughters going in the opposite direction stopped Quinn.
“Can my daughters take a photo with you?”
Quinn had spent the last two days in a sweet dream, living in another era. This woman was validating her authenticity.
“Of course,” she said.
Quinn posed politely framed by a girl on each side of her while their mother said, “Say cheese.”
“Thank you so much, “ the woman gushed. “How long have you been working here?”
“I don’t,” Quinn said.
“Really?” the woman said a little disappointed.
“Sorry,” I jumped in and then added. “But you made her day.”
“Well you fooled me,” she said before thanking us and moving on.
“Do you think she’ll still want the pictures?” Quinn asked as we walked away.
“Absolutely,” I assured her. “She can say anything she wants about those pictures, you’re the real deal.”
Quinn smiled and walked a bit a part from us the rest of the way. There were still a few more minutes left to be of another time. Her family who looked like three clumsy tourists hitching a ride to her wagon shouldn’t ruin it.