Updated, Sunday, 4:30 pm*
“Move along and keep your head down. Don’t touch any of the masks, just take the mask she gives you, and if she’s in a good mood, she’ll let you buy two, maybe three. Remember to say thank you, then get out quick before she changes her mind.” –Conversation heard outside the entrance to Lorraine Parish’s store in Vineyard Haven
Early in March, when the pandemic first began to dominate the news, and the wearing of masks seemed inevitable, I took notice. And being in the clothing design and manufacturing business, mask making was an obvious thing for me to do.
I had yards and yards of unused fabrics, in nooks and crannies all over the place. The one ingredient I did not have and could not order, even back then, was elastic. But I found a way around that — I made my own out of very soft, expensive rayon/spandex jersey, of which I had an abundance.
So my mission, if I chose to accept it — sew as many masks as humanly possible with the goal of covering as many faces as were willing to shell out 10 bucks a pop for them. Hell, if I could make three-layered bias-cut silk organza gowns, this was going to be a cinch! In actuality, it became quite grueling as time went on.
At first I thought this on-the-fly venture would be a neighborly, community-minded gesture by me. I was trading beautiful, handmade masks in exchange for pet food, for pet owners out there who I assumed as time went on would have trouble buying food for their beloved domestic critters. Wrong.
What I found was virtually no need for pet food, but a dire need for masks. After weeks of amassing bags and cans of dog and cat food, I found moi and my poodles needed help ourselves. So I sucked up my pride and took the cash. And BTW, I immediately announced this new deal to the now steady stream of customers lining up at my door. Surprisingly, no one even cared where their $10 went; what they cared about was getting masks for themselves, their friends and family.
Well, finally after 40 years of slugging away, always hoping I’d hit it big with some fabulous product I had created and that all the world desperately wanted, I had found it. Truthfully, it had found me; it had laid itself right at my doorstep. Like many entrepreneurs, finding that elusive Pet Rock (for those old enough to remember that zillion-dollar product) had always been lurking in the back of my small-scale capitalistic mind. God certainly works in mysterious ways.
Within weeks, not only Vineyard residents, but my regular summer customers, now in their winter homes, were calling for my masks. They had heard this news from a story in this very paper, and were unable at that moment to get masks where they lived. The word spread, and I began shipping masks all over the place. I even shipped a handful to a customer in New Zealand. They certainly had plenty of masks down there, but my long-ago customer Joan had to have a few LP masks of her own.
As I was sewing one day, I realized I had begun to get quite possessive of my new precious commodity. One well-known therapist on the Island kept coming to my store’s door almost every day, until I said to her, half-joking, “I’m cutting you off for a while, no more masks for you!” I really did say this, and something at the time seemed very familiar about it … What was it?
One lady called and said, “My masks need to be 100 percent cotton.” To which I replied, “You don’t really need 100 percent cotton, it’s the weave that’s important. I have what I have, and some may or may not be all cotton; it’s up to you if you want one of mine or not.” Hmm, more familiarity.
My new in-demand product obviously was going to my head. Who or what did I remind me of? OMG, I am the “Soup Nazi” of masks! For anyone out there who has never heard of the famous Seinfeld episode “The Soup Nazi,” you must watch it. I did a refresher watch recently, before I wrote this, and yes, I was becoming the chef in the episode, but way, way nicer, of course, at least I think. LP mask customers out there, I am nicer than him, right?
Anyway, as masks have become more available, and my fledgling business has subsided, I have become much more casual these days toward the selling of my masks. They now have become just what they are — swaths of fabric to cover your face in order to protect anyone within earshot reach of your cooties. And, as we all know, you have to be much closer to hear these days when wearing a mask.
Warning: I still can be somewhat controlling when it comes to my little darlings, so if you come to buy one or two, be grateful and polite, or you might hear a bellowing voice behind the beautiful mask say,
“No mask for you today; NEXT!”
P.S.: I did find two local pet rescues for all the donated pet food, and a bit of the cash. And BTW, as of this week I’ve made over 900 masks!
Lorraine Parish is a Vineyard Haven clothing designer and writer.
This post has been updated with a change in title.