This has become an annual tradition for me, a kind of tribute to my mother. I apologize to those who have read it before, but I have new readers who I think will enjoy it.
It’s bathing suit season, in preparation for the unveiling of the bathing suit I have been collaborating on, I think reposting this old story about my mother is appropriate. If you haven’t read it before I hope you enjoy it.
During World War II, my parents became refugees and ended up in a DP (displaced persons) camp in Germany, where they were taken care of by an organization that eventually became a part of the United Nations. This is a picture of my mother, in a bathing suit she made there, out of cold-weather helmet liners. When my parents fled from Latvia they had been able to bring, like refugees everywhere at every time, only what they could pack in one suitcase.
What they also had was pride. Riga, the capital of Latvia, has sometimes been called the Paris of Eastern Europe. With that moniker comes pride in the beauty of the city, of course, and pride in the vibrant cultural life—but also pride in the way the population dresses. Latvians are known for their taste, as well as the quality and tailoring of their clothes.
My mother, the daughter of a tailor, was especially proud of her fashion sense and style; all the women in her family were. Even as refugees, living in barracks and with uncertain futures ahead of them, pride extended to the way one presented oneself to the world.
The camps, situated mostly in Germany, were like little autonomous cities. People had jobs, went to makeshift schools, governed themselves, played sports, celebrated and mourned. Everyone sewed, tore apart and resewed, darned, knit and did what they could to keep themselves nicely and appropriately clothed for the life of the camp.
One day my mother decided she needed a bathing suit. She was able to obtain, I do not know how, cold-weather helmet liners from American soldiers. (No jokes please, she was a good girl! I’m guessing spring came and the guys took pity on the pretty refugee.) Being a good Latvian seamstress, she was able to fashion the bathing suit you see below.
Whether you think a bathing suit in a DP camp is a necessity or not, in this case it was the mother of invention. People had so very little, but what they had was the best they could take with them from their little Paris, and they cared for it with pride.
My mom went a step further, thanks to the American soldiers who provided her with cold-weather helmet liners!