Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Finding something that suits

May 16, 2013

Each year at this time, the seventh-graders at our school pretend they are someone famous. It’s called the History Hall of Fame, and the students select someone famous, research his or her life, and then dress up like that person for a speech.

It’s the dressing part that gets you. My son chose Gen. Normal Schwarzkopf, and that was easy. One pass through the Army/Navy Surplus store got me a cheap camo jacket and a plastic helmet. You wouldn’t want to go into battle like that, but it worked for seventh grade.

My daughter had been thinking about the assignment for weeks. I would toss out names of people, based not so much on their contributions to society but on how they dressed.

Hillary Clinton, I would say. I might have a pantsuit left from my career days. Or how about Oprah Winfrey; she always wears colorful tops, and we could pull that one off. I doubt anyone would want to be Lance Armstrong any more, but are there any famous woman cyclists? I could hook you up.

Grace rejected them all. I was hoping she’d choose someone who dressed like a normal person. It’s been a busy spring, and I wasn’t in the mood to go foraging for a costume.

I’ve done my homework. I’ve baked cookies and slept in tents on hard ground and sewn wings on butterfly suits. Like all mothers, I’ve glued collages and read books aloud when reports were due the next day. I helped build plaster “earthquake houses” that earned only a B+ because they didn’t quite survive the shaking test. I think I’m done.

“I’m Sally Ride,” Grace said when she finally decided.

Oh, no. Space suit. Sally Ride, as we all know, was the first woman in space, a scientist aboard one of the first shuttle missions. Web photos show her with dark curly hair, clad in a navy blue space suit and holding a helmet.

Where was I going to find a space suit? You can’t really buy that sort of thing, and it’s doubtful a real astronaut would send his space suits to Goodwill when he retired. Are they even allowed to keep the suits?

A one-piece jumpsuit would work, and so I went hunting. Over the course of a week, I visited a half-dozen thrift shops, expecting that some mechanic or maintenance worker would have shucked his dark blue onesie.

There was nothing. The closest I could find was a tired, blue jogging suit, and there was no way Grace would go for that, and besides, astronauts don’t wear hoodies to space.

And so I did what I should have done to begin with. I went on the Internet, to the community board for our town, to plead my case.

It worked like a charm. Within five hours, a neighbor was on the front porch holding a navy blue jumpsuit her engineer husband had used to cover his clothing when he went to a work site.

It fit well enough. I sewed on flag patches and glued on three stars and, using silver Duck Tape, cut out a NASA logo and stuck it on the breast pocket. That morning, Grace curled her hair.

“I don’t have a helmet,” she said.

“You’re leaving for the bus in five minutes; I think it’s a little late for that,” I said. “Besides, nobody would hear your speech with your head in a helmet.”

I waited for her on the porch after school. She came running up the sidewalk, happy and relieved.

“I wasn’t even nervous,” she said. Everyone loved the costume. Sally Ride was a hit.

“But the flag and one of my stars fell off,” Grace said.

Sounds like another B+.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



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