Last night was Oscar night, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hand out the famous 8 pound golden statuette to the film industry’s chosen few. Hollywood’s biggest party of the year is watched by millions all over the world, including myself. But I can’t watch it without thinking of my Aunt Hazel. You see for many years, when I lived in Phoenix, my aunt and I would sit down and tune in together to the see who would win.
My aunt particularly loved seeing the kings and queens of Hollywood as they arrived and made their way up the red carpet. We didn’t need the fashion commentors because we ran our own commentary, choosing the gowns we thought the most glamorous, laughing at the dresses that looked simply ridiculous and applauding the styles that we thought took ‘best costume’ before the awards even had begun.
I am convinced that my aunt could have been a costume designer had her life taken another course. In a sense, she was, as she was the one to whom her dance groups turned when they needed costumes for a new number. Hazel could create costumes from nothing, cutting cloth laid out on the top of her billiards table using neither pattern and pins–she held it down with table knives–then tuck and stitch and embellish the pieces until they became a wearable piece. She did this for years and years and never received an award for her efforts. And often she never received any thanks from the women who wore them.
Her own closet was full of beautiful long gowns that she wore to the dinners, conventions, balls and other big events of her Ladies of the Nile organization or my uncle’s Shriner’s unit. Satins, sparkles, chiffons, silks, sequins and taffeta. Something for every occasion. She wore them stunningly. Her beautiful red hair set off the golds, turquoises and emerald greens of the gowns. After she passed away, my aunt’s youngest sister and my cousins went into her closet to sort through her collection. It was a day I’ll never forget. Her dresses dazzled us as we tenderly lifted one after another off their padded hangers. It was as if we were playing ‘dress-up’ day all over again as we held one after another up to ourselves for a look in the full-length mirror. Aunt Hazel would have enjoyed it, just as she did when she was still with us.
Over the years, Hazel had given me some of her gowns: a dusty rose Mexican wedding dress with crocheted trim, a sparkling gold top and matching skirt and a silver-sequined marine blue chiffon gown that made even me look like a movie star when I put it on. I wore the Mexican wedding dress for a big birthday celebration. My cousins and Aunt Phyllis came to the party dressed in other gowns that Hazel had given to them. The gold ensemble is a favorite for New Year’s bashes. And the silver sequined gown came in handy for a special premiere party. I wear them with love and pride knowing that they once belonged to or were designed by my aunt.
I’m sure I”ll never get to walk on the red carpet on Academy night, although I used to fantasize that one day I would. But I know how those who do must feel, thanks to my wonderful aunt, her terrific talent, her creative ability and skills and most of all her love. So when I sit down on Oscar night I sit down with the memories I have of those special nights with my aunt. And when they announce the Oscar for best costume design, I’ll smile, close my eyes for a moment and say sliently to myself “Aunt Hazel.”