I loved having young children but I don’t miss having to dress them up for Purim. Before the days of being able to search on Amazon for, “Mordechai costume, Size 3,” buying a Purim costume was an investment of time and money. Which is probably why, after I bought a cow costume for our son Mendy, he dressed up as a cow for at least three years.
I knew people advised buying costumes the day after Halloween, but I never did that. Instead, I took our kids to the nearby costume store, an outing that became one of our family’s Purim traditions.
I guess I chose the place because it was the first name in the phone book under “Costumes.” I knew how to get there, too. The question is, once I got there, why did I walk in? Even from the outside, it looked like the setting for a scary movie. The paint was chipping and the windows were dark. Everything inside said “old,” too: the creaky wood floors, the scent of the clothing, the dusty counters. Emily, the owner, was also old and so was her husband, whose name I never knew.
The first time I went, I half expected Alfred Hitchcock to be waiting when I buzzed open the front door. Instead, Emily was cordial and calm. She wasn’t judgmental either; if I wasn’t interested in Frankenstein or Elvis costumes, that was fine with her.
So I kept going back.
“It’s that time of year again,” I would announce as Emily came towards the front counter to greet me and my small brood. Costumes hung everywhere behind her on both sides of the store. Seeing Dorothy’s dress from the Wizard of Oz exactly where it was the year before, I immediately second-guessed myself for keeping up this eery tradition.
I think I kept going back to see the almost macabre cheeriness of the owners, the simplicity of how she and her husband enjoyed working together just to help people dress up. Emily never seemed to get older either in all the years I went to her store. And even though it seemed that her husband was there just to get whatever she wanted, he never got older either.
If I told her a costume was too expensive, Emily would explain all the work involved. (I always preferred buying over renting, hoping that I could slowly build my own costume collection.) Inevitably, it felt like I walked out with too little costume for too much money.
And, every year, helmets got lost and belts got broken, so my collection never seemed to grow. My kids did, though, and eventually they didn’t need me to take them to get Purim costumes. They had their own ideas and were able to get what they wanted themselves. It was a big relief for me, almost as big as when they were able to get their own shaloch manos, the gifts of food that comprises one of Purim’s four essential mitzvahs. (The other three are hearing the Megillah, giving tzedakah, and eating a festive meal.)
I recently drove by the costume store, half expecting it not to be there anymore, but there it was, looking exactly the same. This means that inside are probably two really, really old people surrounded by really, really old costumes, which confirms my original suspicion that there was something otherworldly about the place and everything that went on inside of it.
Whenever my kids and I reminisce about Purim, we laugh about going to that costume store. I am relieved that they have happy memories, because that means I did a good job of hiding the fact that I often felt overwhelmed by the physical demands of the holiday.
What I did and do love about Purim are its eternal, spiritual lessons– that until the Messianic era, G-d alone protects the Jewish people from the descendants of the Biblical Amalek, such as Haman, people who are incurably hard-wired to hate us. And the fact that G-d protects us through “nature” doesn’t mean it’s not miraculous. (How else can you explain the fact that we’re still here?)
Now that our kids are grown, I am less overwhelmed by the holiday. I especially enjoy watching our married children celebrate Purim with their children. I hope they don’t have to hide anything, but it’s okay if they do, as long as they also do everything possible to make sure the joy comes through.