Before There Was Google by Andrea Santo Felcone

Before there was Google, there was Mom diving into encyclopedias to research every detail of the Statue of Liberty. She had promised our local PTA she would create a replica of this famous statue as the centerpiece for my 8th grade dance. Mom remained undaunted when they decided they needed a life-sized (well, human-sized) replica, in fact. A native New Yorker and a natural creative talent, Mom would seem a likely choice for this task. Ironically though, and like many other native New Yorkers, Mom had never seen the Statue of Liberty in person. This was pre-internet, so trips were planned to the library and PTA committee discussions followed. Mom was careful to recreate every detail–for the standards of that exacting PTA—a suburban PTA determined to prove they could pull off a legitimate “New York, New York”-themed dance. (Which, in fact, they did—mainly due to the showstopper Mom created.)

Mom’s statue was housed temporarily in our garage–before and after the dance–welcoming our car into its oil-stained space—“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” wasn’t a far cry from the truth, as our drained family slid out of the Buick after a day’s outing to the local “Bamberger’s” or “Grand Union”. If we were lucky, my sister and I could convince Mom to heat up two Morton’s honey buns—our true “yearnings”. We were barely patient enough to wait for them to heat through–having just purchased them frozen from the supermarket. While we consumed our treats, Lady Liberty guarded the car.

I think back now on the hours it must have taken Mom to craft this behemoth out of chicken wire and Plaster of Paris (how fitting!) and now, how I wish, we could have kept Lady Liberty, perhaps indefinitely. How kitschy it would have been to be labeled “THAT family”—the one that keeps homemade human-sized replicas of national treasures in their two-car garage.Statue of Liberty

Right after the dance, there were many offers for our Lady. She stood proud and tall on a float at that year’s Fourth of July parade (a holiday that’s a big deal in my hometown). She enjoyed center stage at a local dance studio’s recital as ballerinas twirled around her stoic face and static robes.

Eventually, though, her dance card emptied; leaving her nowhere else to go. She returned to her usual spot in our garage, surveying her “island” consisting of our ping pong table, some abandoned paint cans, roller-skates, a bicycle. She was sentenced to stare at the bulb of our electric garage door opener–as if being interrogated–until the allotted time expired and the bulb went black. There, then, she stood in the dark probably wondering what she’d done to deserve such an inconsistent existence. (And they say the French are fickle!) Perhaps she longed to return to that land of her ancestry, to a life more in keeping with her grandeur.

As for me, you might think gazing up at the Statue of Liberty, while Mom pulled into the garage each day, would elicit emotions akin to those shared by immigrants approaching the shores of freedom for the very first time. You might think our garage door opened like a gateway to America. You might think music swelled from behind our shrubbery as our Lady welcomed us home. Home to a land of milk and honey … buns. I wish this were true, but, no. The one repetitive thought I had as I stared up at our homemade Lady Liberty, day in and day out, was …

“Why doesn’t she have a stronger chin?”

I’m not proud to admit this. Not proud that I approached my daily viewings of this statue as any art critic might … or any other 13-year-old kid might … ungratefully, with an air of entitlement. As if I could have done better (I couldn’t have). Sadly, Lady Liberty became commonplace. She took her rightful spot among my mother’s other creative feats of wonder; creative feats that had become part of the air we breathed, part of the backdrop of our young lives.

Before there were TV shows boasting the talents of Martha Stewart or Bob Vila, there was Mom. She had crafted a kids’ “jungle bathroom” for us, complete with contact-papered palm tree … so real you expected an actual coconut to fall and knock over your “Dorothy Hamill Short & Sassy” shampoo. Three course Michelin-starred meals appeared where you swore you only saw ketchup, a packet of tapioca, and a bag of rice, prior. Sure, we had some interesting meatloaves in our day, but my sister and I became aware of “strategic eating” to eliminate the foods we didn’t want in future meatloaf form. (Today Mom is known for her amazing meals and even more extraordinary desserts.) All of our Halloween costumes were hand-sewn, including my prize-winning Betsy Ross the year of the Centennial, and my sister’s iconic Princess Leia—complete with yarn spirals (reminiscent of those honey buns!) pinned to the sides of her adorable little head.

I had had an amazing time at that 8th grade dance. I remember feeling like the Belle of the Ball (an uncommon feeling for me) and I remember being proud that my mom had created the statue that was drawing so much positive attention. But, after the dance, after the parade, after the recital—in a time before Google, before eBay, before Craigslist–Mom did what was typically done when you no longer needed something … she discarded Lady Liberty.

As an adult, I’ve been to the real Statue of Liberty once. She was stately. She was impressive. She was serene. Climbing stair after stair and finally arriving at the top, I was surprised at how small her head was, yet how much she could cram inside. Google will tell you thousands of workers have restored her over the years, ensuring she never loses her perfection. Google will show you–she has an exquisitely-crafted chin.

But this was a time before Google—when I was just a kid. This was a time before I knew about all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into crafting costumes, cooking meals, decorating rooms, caring for children, participating in PTA committees.

This was a time before I knew what it was to be a Mom.

Tags: , ,