I asked Linda to pick out six costumes – three for her and three for me. We took turns photographing one another as Cleopatra, a pirate captain, a saloon-girl, Carmen Miranda, a Grecian princess, and a person from the revolutionary war. Linda selected each costume, laughing while she stripped down to her bra before trying on the next ensemble. There are thousands to choose from.
I met Linda on the afternoon of a difficult day. Her mother, battling stage-four cancer, moved into their spare bedroom earlier in the day, joining Linda and her legally blind husband Mike. The costume shop, located on a quiet road in Saco, is on the second floor of their barn. Walking up the stairs and into the shop feels like uncovering a treasure. Simply put, it is a very special place.
I rarely do this on this blog, because I don’t believe that this blog is designed as an advertisement. But, here goes:
RENT A COSTUME FROM CASTAWAYS COSTUME SHOP. Rent a costume because you will be transformed, if only for a while. Rent one because her costumes cost $20-$60, and each one is unique and of exquisite quality. Rent one because business has been slow this year. Rent one because it’s fun. Rent a costume because you will have the honor of meeting an extraordinary person like Linda.
IF THERE WAS AN ORIGIN STORY FOR HOW THIS SHOP CAME TO BE, WHAT WOULD THAT STORY BE?
Boy, is there ever! I was fascinated with buttons and old hats and vintage wear. And I just started picking things up and gathering them. And I started doing flea markets and I found this old Knights of Pythias fraternity that had been in a fire and had a lot of old costumes. And I had all this stuff that I had made for my kids. So I thought, what do I do with all these costumes? A girlfriend of mine –now since passed– said, “Rent it!” And I thought she was crazy, but I said, “What the heck!” and I put everything in a small room which is now my mother’s bedroom. I put an ad in the paper, and people came! They came right through the living room, into the kitchen, said hi to Mike there eating his supper, and would rent costumes.
HOW DID YOU END UP GROWING INTO THIS LARGER SPACE?
It took off! It was like that for about three years, and then my family built this barn. I talked by husband into letting me have one room. Well, now, you see I have just kind of taken over the top of the barn. But he’s been very good and very supportive. It’s fun! He’s legally blind, so sometimes he has trouble seeing you! If you are bent over working on something, he could walk right into you. Even the animals know to scoot around. It makes it interesting. Sometimes he’ll make me a sandwich or bring up a coffee if it’s busy and I can’t get out. He does what he can. If I’m down, he picks me up and sets me on my feet.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WORK IN THE SHOP?
Everyone that comes through those doors is in a good mood and ready to party. And I work with them one on one. It’s a little overwhelming when they first come in, but you find out whether they want to be funny, or sexy looking, or classy looking. They try things on and we accessorize it. If I have it, they get it for the same price. I have drawers full of jewelry and drawers full of plumes and weapons. I’ve got over 700 hats. I have masks, shoes… there’s stuff in boxes hidden. I play with it all the time. I’m up here. I start in August and clean, clean, clean. It helps me to re-familiarize myself with my costumes. I make sure everything has a tag and a size and put things in little groups. And then I clean the drawers and find out where things are. This year, I retired from my job in June. So, I was playing catch-up this year.
TELL ME ABOUT THE JOB YOU RETIRED FROM
I was working at a convenience store as a shift manager. I had been there for seven years. It was owned by three brothers, and the guys were great to work for. It had great benefits, and they let me use my vacation time every Halloween season for doing my costumes. Last year, when I worked at the store, starting in October I’d wear a costume to work every day. Every day I was dressed as something different. There was a young man working there last year, and we would dress up together. I’d bring in a male costume for him and I’d wear the female counterpart. One time, he was a pimp and I was a high-priced ho. I did a zombie bride and he did some kind of freaky zombie thing. We had all kinds of things. He was a big guy, so it was hard to find things for him. And he was kind of a gothic kind of guy, so he liked dark things. I tried to accommodate him, which got me out of my normal favorites because I tend to like the silly things.
DO YOU DRESS UP IN THE COSTUME SHOP?
I love to dress up! Not so much in the shop, but I dress up with my grandkids. There are two next door. Lexi used to come up here when she was four. By the time she was 11, she could run this place by herself! Her brother isn’t interested except to play with weapons. But now I have little ones, aged two and four, who are just starting to get into playing with Grammy’s stuff. It’s fun.
DO YOU REMEMBER A FAVORITE COSTUME FROM WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
We had horses as kids growing up and we had some beautiful outfits that we would wear for showing horses. One of the ones I remember the most was one my mother had: it was turquoise and all sequined with a hat. I thought it was a big deal! That’s the only one I really remember. My daughter has a Halloween party every year and we’ll also go with some friends to the pub here in Saco. I haven’t decided what I will be! I have a great wig, I’m dying to wear. It’s a red, curly pirate wig– so I think I’ll go as the pirate-y thing. Ugh, it’s a beautiful, beautiful wig.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE COSTUMES YOU HAVE IN THE SHOP.
One is a Crazy Ring Toss. It’s stupid but it’s fun! It’s an apron that you wear around your waist and it has an artificial “male part.” It has a hat that goes with it that says, “Winner gets a free ride.” And it has these rubber rings, and whoever is with you gets to throw the rings and you have to try and catch them on your “protrusion” with a hip thrust. When we went to our camp this weekend, everybody had it on as some point, but I wore it most of the time! I also like the fat suit, we call it McCrackin’. Its got the plumber’s butt. I wore it one year and my mother tattooed on my arm “Muddah” and I wore a mask and my husband’s slippers. I have something for everybody. So I have a naughty section. I have a “Department of Erections” suit that looks like a prison jumpsuit. I have the light and socket costume set. I have the droopy boobs costume, and the wet T-shirt costume. Yeah, I try to have something for everybody. I have an actual original flight suit, and vintage Victorian dresses, and civil war re-enactment suits. My most expensive item is $60; I want everybody to be able to have fun. I do this because I enjoy it, and it allows me to keep buying! It’s the thrill of the hunt for me – I go to auctions, flea markets, Goodwills, wherever. Every time I see a costume, I think of where and when I got it. They all have stories.
WHAT DOES YOUR HUSBAND THINK OF ALL THIS?
He is the most easy going guy in the whole wide world. He never complains. He knows that it makes me happy, and it gives us a little extra money for oil bills and whatnot. If I’m lucky, I can pay the taxes.
TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOU MET YOUR HUSBAND?
We met in the woods! We had both been to the Buxton Town Hall Festival and my daughter and I saw a little white pick-up truck with a St. Bernard dog in the back. Course, who doesn’t notice a St. Bernard? Well, I like to go in the woods looking for old foundations and whatnot. I get two miles down into the woods on this narrow dirt road, and there’s this little white pick up truck and I can’t go anywhere! And it’s too far to back up on the road. So, I stopped and my daughter gets out to look at the roses and soon enough a big dog comes out of the woods with a man behind him, all apologetic. We get talking, and next thing you know, w spend three hours together digging around someone’s old dump looking for bottles. I was married. He was divorced. But I always remember him, this nice man I met in the woods. He didn’t put the make on me, which was nice. But I was married, and happily so. My husband was tragically killed. About a year and a half later, I couldn’t get this man out of my mind. I remember where he worked, only because my girl friend’s husband worked at the same place. I called her and said, “Joni, do you know this man who drives a little white pick-up and has a St. Bernard dog?” And she said, “Oh, that sounds like Mike Hoitt! Let me call him.” So she called him, and she asked if he remembered me. He called me up that same night, and we made a date to meet and we were married three months later. We’ve been married thirty years. We both knew that day that we were sort of like soul mates, but the timing wasn’t right. But fate moved in our favor, because he didn’t get married. It worked out for us, and we consolidated houses, dogs, kids. We were lucky, everybody got along. We had some sad times, but we always got through it. We’re a close-knit family.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Peace and harmony in the family. Having my family around and everybody getting along. Family first. My grandchildren. When they run up to me and put their arms out and say, “Grammy!” I melt like butter. It’s unconditional love. To me, that’s very important. And then after that, this shop! Someday, I’m going to be too old to climb up those stairs, and I’ll have to let it go. I’ll climb up those stairs on my hands and knees if that’s what it takes!
WHAT IS A LESSON YOU HAVE LEARNED IN YOUR LIFE OR ARE LEARNING RIGHT NOW?
Patience. I move fast, and I want to do everything in a hurry. I worked in a nursing home for about 17 years; I was the activity director for about seven. I loved the old people and I had to learn patience because they move slowly. They have walkers or wheelchairs, or special disabilities you have to work around. There were mental things I had to learn to deal with. It was challenging but was fun. We’d have a caravan of cars with walkers and party seats strapped to the roofs of the cars, and we’d head up to camp for the day. We’d have a cookout, and we’d bring them out on the party boat. Wheel the wheelchairs out on the docks, but them on the boat and have a party day!
I FEEL LIKE YOU ARE SUCH A SOURCE OF FUN
Well, I’m pretty serious. I’m quiet as a rule. If I’m in the mood, I can be. I’m game for fun. You say party, you say drink: let’s go! I’m not afraid to join in.
WHAT’S THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
I like about eight o’clock at night, when I can finally take off my shoes and put my slipper and pajamas on, and sit down with a cup of coffee and a cigarette and just chill.
TELL ME ABOUT A DEFINING MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?
There’s been a lot of those. There’s been a lot of tragedy in my life.
WHAT WERE THE THINGS THAT KEPT YOU MOVING FORWARD?
My shop. Because I come up here and get lost. On 9-11 for instance, my husband watched the whole thing day-in and day-out. After a while, I couldn’t handle anymore emotionally. I came up here and took all my photos of people in costumes and cut them out like paper dolls. I spent a week out here, doing that, with the radio cranked and my coffee. My husband is my biggest support. We laugh our way through. We have our kids and our home. But it’s to the point where we wonder how much longer we can hold onto this place, with the taxes and with both of us retired. But we manage. You have to be a survivor these days, you have to just jump in and do it fully.