11.12.2018

Revisiting a Veteran's Story

Revisiting a Veteran's Story | oonaballoona by marcy harriell

Two years ago today, I wrote this post about my Granddad. I don't have new stories to share about him, because I didn't know him when he was here--but I thought this old story was worth revisiting. 

This is my granddad. I always believed that he did not love me.

One summer, long after he had passed away, long after both my Grandmothers had passed away, my parents put together a photo album for me as a birthday gift. The bulk of the shots were true and believable memories. But I stared in surprise at my Granddad, me cradled in his arms. The love on his face was undeniable. And unbelievable.

But our beliefs are not always truth. 

Granddad was a quiet man. I shared maybe a hundred words with him over the years, most of those in the form of hellos and goodbyes. He was a Veteran. He served for four years in the Navy during World War II. I know next to nothing about him. This is what I learned today:

In 1941, my Nana had moved from Virginia to New Jersey, where she met my Granddad. Her brother, Eddie, was a Marine, and when my Granddad first met him, Eddie was in uniform. Granddad thought this man was an unbelievable sight, and he enlisted in the Navy in '42 -- mainly because he didn't want to give up the curl in his 'do with the mandatory buzz cut of the Army and Marines.

Granddad served in the South Pacific, but whenever they were docked stateside, Nana would go to visit him on his ship. His crewmates were incensed that a Black man was involved with a woman who, by all appearances, seemed White. They had to assure them that she was not.

When he returned from the war in January of '46, they were married by the end of the month. Twin girls arrived in November of that year. 

His first job after the war was short lived. When he asked for a raise, his boss said, no problem, you'll have your raise starting tomorrow. He arrived at work the next day to find that his boss had placed several pallets by his workspace to stand on. He quit on the spot.

He was incredibly hard working. He had multiple side jobs on top of his full-time job at Western Electric, which he got because he was a veteran, in spite of the color of his skin.

One hot summer day, the young family of four all got on the bus to Olympic Park in Irvington, NJ. They were excited to ride the roller coaster and cool off in the pool. But when they arrived at the gate, they were denied entry, because of the color of their skin.

During the Newark riots of '67, now a family of five, their car was stopped by the police, who then searched the vehicle. The police found a hammer in the trunk, there because Granddad did all of the repair work on the two homes they owned. The police considered the hammer to be a weapon and said something to my Granddad, something my Mom did not hear. But she felt it when he suddenly hit the gas and sped off and she heard it when the police shot at their car. 

Or was it the National Guard? My shock at these stories, at once completely believable and absolutely unbelievable, makes it hard to remember the facts.

Granddad once caught an electric eel when fishing in the Raritan River. What did he do?! I asked. He threw it back! my Dad replied. The thought of my stoic Granddad reacting to an electric fish is unimaginable and yes, unbelievable. 

Revisiting a Veteran's Story | oonaballoona by marcy harriell

Everything I've just told you comes from a conversation I had with my parents this morning. I didn't hear any of these stories from my Granddad, who I rarely saw anywhere but in his domain: the basement TV room and bar. There, he would sit in his recliner (though never in a reclined position), watching TV. We would kiss him on the cheek. He would grunt a hello. We would leave him be, and go outside to play with our cousins. The only thing that changed as we grew up was that I would go upstairs to debate with our cousins, while my brother would stay downstairs and sit with him. I know no other small tidbits about him. 

I do have one memory of my brother and me, sitting on bar stools, while Dad and Granddad made a couple of rum and cokes for the ladies upstairs. (Nana said no one made a rum and coke better than my Dad. EASILY BELIEVABLE.)

Revisiting a Veteran's Story | oonaballoona by marcy harriell

This might seem like a story about race. It's not-- but it is. I said at the beginning of this lengthy post that I believed my Granddad didn't love me. I suppose I should tell you why. My extended family looked like a Colors of Benetton ad, but it sure didn't act United. We were opinionated, and funny, and loud, and passionate, and ever-slightly-feuding--and though every single person in that house was born of an interracial marriage, a lot of those holiday feuds were centered on race. What race you were, what race you claimed, what race was better than the other. Neither of my grandparents ever joined in these conversations, especially my Granddad, who sat downstairs as the hollering went on. His silence made it easy for me to believe he didn't care enough to talk. I believed my particular racial blend held both of my maternal grandparent's love for me at a quiet arm's length. 

But maybe my Granddad simply wanted quiet after the weight of so many struggles. The worst of which had to be losing his 33 year-old daughter. Maybe my Nana was just shocked to see a teenager with natural hair the size of New Jersey greeting her at the door, when she had to wrangle her hair into a small, straightened shape every day of her life in an effort to appear a little bit more "acceptable." Maybe I was just an unbelievable sight to her. 

Race plays an enormous part in the story. You could easily say it is the cause of it, but it is not the sum of it. It is a story about strangers, brought on by a day which honors a man I didn't know. 

I've been reading this over and over, wondering what the hell I'm trying to say. Just now, I heard some yells, some drums, coming from up the street, and my mind immediately went to thoughts of protestors and trouble. I believed this imagined scenario instantly and completely. Looking out the window, I saw a troop of 30 young Black kids dressed in some sort of school military uniform, carrying marching band instruments and carefully rolled flags. They walked happily down the street, obviously heading somewhere in honor of Veteran's Day. I wrote a story in my head that I instantly believed, and which turned out to be the complete opposite.

Would I have gotten these stories directly from my grandparents if my own beliefs hadn't clouded up every encounter I had with them? My beliefs became truths that made no room. They colored every hello and goodbye. And they made my grandparents strangers to me.

We all have strangers in our lives: neighbors who vote the other way, family members we just don't get, countless people we only know through half-thought-out opinions on social media. In honor of this man I didn't know--this man, who by sheer virtue of the magnificent daughter he raised, was obviously a man who had great love inside him--in honor of this man, I'm going to do my best to question my beliefs. To hear a siren and consider that it might mean help is on the way for someone. To consider that a stranger's sideways glance might not be condemnation--maybe it's a commendation on my latest creation. To let my beliefs be pliable enough that I can give small and large kindnesses to those that I see every day, and those that I'll never see again.  

To consider that my belief isn't always truth.

10.29.2018

Close Up on Suit Up! Aquaman (or, How I Got Rob in Pleather.)

Close Up on Suit Up! Aquaman (or, How I Got Rob in Pleather.) | oonaballoona by marcy harriell

Babe. DO. NOT. PUT. ME. IN. SPANDEX he said, in all caps. BABE. I replied, caps lock on: I GOT YOU. 

NO BABE YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND, I AM NOT WEARING SPANDEX. 

BABE I AM NOT GONNA PUT YOU IN SPANDEX YOU ARE GONNA LOOK AMAZING I GOT YOU

WE TALK IN INCREASING LEVELS OF ALL CAPS AROUND HERE BUT I MEAN LOOK AT THE RESULT

Close Up on Suit Up! Aquaman (or, How I Got Rob in Pleather.) | oonaballoona by marcy harriell

I *think* he ended up being down with it 😁

Close Up on Suit Close Up on Suit Up! Aquaman (or, How I Got Rob in Pleather.) | oonaballoona by marcy harriellUp! Aquaman | oonaballoona by marcy harriell

I'll tell you another thing: as the pieces came together, he was so down with this look, he demanded that I forge ahead with my idea of shoulder and hip gauntlets, when others were iffy on the extra-ness of it. I was like, EXTRA IS MY MIDDLE NAME. 

Babe, he assured me, if you see it in your head, do it. (We revert to lowercase, when encouragement warrants it.) And everyone ended up liking them once they were 3D.

Close Up on Suit Up! Aquaman | oonaballoona by marcy harriell

Also 3D: gloves! These things were flat and lifeless pieces of flannel backed pleather, and I was pretty mad at them, to tell you the truth. I wanted them to look like ocean waves, but they were flopping lifeless as a sad little kiddie pool, until I started folding them in frustration. Eureka! I made the folds permanent with some simple lines of stitching. Oh, and I attached them to combat gloves. And painted the whole shebang for depth. OH YEAH SPEAKING OF PAINT...

Close Up on Suit Up! Aquaman | oonaballoona by marcy harriell

Here's how I kept my no-spandex promise! Those are Levis, baby. Rob has about 20 pairs. I thought it would be very cool to take a little bit of biker/roadhouse/Momoa Aquaman (behold, Rob's weathered motorcycle boots), and mix him up with the classic green & gold Aquaman, by simply painting jeans to look as though they'd been underwater. I layered up some colors and went nuts on them with a tracing wheel dipped in gold paint. Rob liked the gold so much, he asked me to rub some of the paint into the creases of the jeans, "as highlights."

LIKE I SAID HE GOT SO INTO IT.

What he *wasn't* totally sold on was the color of the jacket. That burnished basketweave pleather...

Close Up on Suit Up! Aquaman (or, How I Got Rob in Pleather.) | oonaballoona by marcy harriell

...that Rob is displaying with SO MUCH BADASSERY...

Close Up on Suit Up! Aquaman (or, How I Got Rob in Pleather.) | oonaballoona by marcy harriell

...started out VERY! SHINY! GOLD! As you can tell, I am UBER EXCITED ABOUT THAT. Contrary to the smile captured by our awesome photographer, Rob was not of the same opinion. He's right, it's so wrong in its virgin form. I will say, in my defense, that our strange tv diet at that time included back-to-back episodes of Bret Michaels Rock of Love, and The Handmaid's Tale. I can't say why we were doing that to our brains. But I think it bled into the outfit. We started calling him Rock-quaman. That state of mind is also what pushed me into getting a blonde wig, rather than a Momoa toned 'do. I thought...I'm not going Gal Godot on my 'fro, why put Rob in anything but blonde Hair Band locks?

I digress. 

When Rob first got a gander of that gold pleather in full metal jacket form, he asked for a couple of swatches, walked mysteriously off towards the kitchen, and took matters into his own hands.


He returned with several hues of shoe-polished-pleather. I picked one, and yelped HAVE A GOOD TIME GIVING THAT JACKET A RUBDOWN BABE CUZ  THAT'S ALL YOU (we were back to all caps at this point, as Aquaman had well over a dozen embellished costume pieces. I went overboard, pun intended. THE HIP ARMOR ALONE HAS 7 PATTERN PIECES.)

Sorry, didn't mean to go caps lock on that last sentence.

Close Up on Suit Up! Aquaman (or, How I Got Rob in Pleather.) | oonaballoona by marcy harriell

But I mean can you blame me?! THIS IS MY DREAM COME TRUE!!!! ROB IN METALLICS AND PLEATHER AND WITH A FREAKING TRIDENT TO BOOT?! I DO NOT HAVE A LARGE ENOUGH FONT!!!

Out of this series, this was hands down the most fun to make. If Rob wanted stuff like this, welp, I'd be sewing for him alllll the time. As it stands, I'll be making another version of the jacket for him, in as wild a material as he will allow. Sans shoulder gauntlets. 

You can see how I (erm, we!) did it in Ep 2 of Suit Up! on Bluprint. If you don't have a subscription, you can snag a free trial, or peep Ep 1: Batman for free over at Ye Olde YouTube. (And if you want to make that jacket, I used Burdastyle's "Men's Pirate Jacket" pattern, with a few mods, natch 😉)

Alrightly then! I gotta go make my rocker birthday boy Coq Au Vin. His birthday week came with the promise of No Deadline Stress Sewing, so I've been cooking. Slightly poorly, if I'm honest. Who knows what'll come out of my machine when I'm back to sewing this weekend...

10.28.2018

Close Up on Suit Up! The Dark Knight (I'm BATMAN.)

Close Up on Suit Up! The Dark Knight (I'm BATMAN.) | oonaballoona by marcy harriell | dc comics

Do not adjust your monitors, I am indeed clad in head to toe black (literally--I mean, do you know how hard it is to get my mass of hair into a cowl?). This absence of technicolor is something I would only do for The Dark Knight.

Close Up on Suit Up! The Dark Knight (I'm BATMAN.) | oonaballoona by marcy harriell | dc comics

I loved comic books ever since my bigger bro (as he likes to call himself--this is, again, a quite literal description) started a collection as a kid. The collection was solely his, as the ballet barre and mirrors installed in my room by my Dad were solely mine. Though I would've been delighted if Bigger Bro wanted to join me for a plié or two. 

I can't remember if this no-trespassing-on-hobbies-thing was a rule, or simply an innate knowledge that the two of us had to have some interests that were unique to us. Maybe the understanding came when I switched from Michael Jackson to Prince? Prince was Bigger Bro's domain, until I came to my senses. He was all DO YOU EVEN KNOW ANYTHING PRE-PURPLE RAIN YOU POSER.

Close Up on Suit Up! The Dark Knight (I'm BATMAN.) | oonaballoona by marcy harriell | dc comics

Unfortunately for bro, I was HIGHLY interested in the plastic sleeved boxes of mini art that grew in his room. I was allowed in once a week to read a small pile of the latest issues, but really, I only ever got through one in a session, since it took me roughly an hour to get through fifteen pages. I was, and always have been, a speed reader, but comics had so much more than words to devour! They had color, they had art, they had lettering, they had story, they had layout. Usually about three pages from the end of my chosen issue, Bigger Bro would have enough of my presence in his domain and bid me farewell, the small pile of new issues mostly untouched.

(I would sneak back in later and read the rest when he was out with friends. Sorry bro. I felt it my reward for being the good kid who stayed in at night 😜)

Close Up on Suit Up! The Dark Knight (I'm BATMAN.) | oonaballoona by marcy harriell | dc comics

You know that feeling you get when you're away from your childhood home for the first time, and you understand that you can have ANYTHING YOU WANT for dinner? That's the feeling I got when I walked into Midtown Comics, just a half block from the theater I was working in as an adult. Frank Miller's work jumped off the shelves, in the form of a Batman I'd never seen before. This Batman had had it. This Batman was the anit-hero, a Dark Knight who considered his previous career of crimefighting a mere slap on the wrist! This Knight was ready to FULL ON THROW DOWN, and I'm talking physically knocking Superman out of the Batcave throw down. I was in love, and bought everything Frank Miller I could find.

Close Up on Suit Up! The Dark Knight (I'm BATMAN.) | oonaballoona by marcy harriell | dc comics

Out of the list of Super Heros for Suit Up!, Rob insisted I take Batman. Although his fandom equals mine, this ask was *mainly* because he thinks black looks great on me, and saw his chance. Civilian! I whispered, in my best Dark Knight bass rumble. You do not realize how easy an ask that is. I WILL ALWAYS CHOOSE TO DEFEND GOTHAM AS THE DARK KNIGHT. 

There's zero sew-speak going on in this post (I know, you're shocked) but the entire Batman episode is up for free on Youtube, and they're very good about making me talk about sewing (though I do still get to act a fool--that's pretty much impossible to contain). If you're a member, or start a free trial, you can view all four heroes on Bluprint...and tomorrow, I'll be plastering Rob's Aquaman look ALL. OVER. THIS. HERE. SPACE. We went a little rock with it. Let's just say that green and orange spandex was a...harder sell, and I had some figurin' out to do.

Happy Sunday, Super Sewists. From the middle of Gotham, I hope you are fighting the very best fight, and finding a moment in this world to bring something creative into existence.

 (all photographs by Dylan Osborne, check out his Instagram feed for a dose of beauty)