Monday, December 28, 2015


This Christmas, I spent a solid week (ask my husband) making dolls for my godchildren. It was a grueling task, but having completed it, I have such an immense sense of having accomplished something worthwhile. I look at the Raggedy Ann doll that sits beside my bed, well loved, repaired multiple times over the years, and I know that those dolls can last a lifetime. Perhaps 30 years from now one of my godchildren will look at my work from the last week and understand for the first time how much I love him, or what I was trying to communicate when I spent this week benignly cursing as I assembled her doll’s feet.

It has occurred to me many times over the years that, while I never really sat down and learned sewing, quilting, doll making, dollhouse building, painting, woodworking, radio fixing, violet growing, or gardening at my mother’s feet, I watched her doing all those things at some point during my childhood. I suppose I learned by osmosis. My mother is a multi-talented, many faceted artist, and she passed her gifts on to me. My house is overflowing with her creativity, when I take the time to look and remember. Raggedy Ann, quilts that I watched her create, crocheted shawls that drape my doors and peer out from 40-year-old pictures, memories of the broken cassette player I watched her disassemble and put back together, now working. There was and is nothing my mom can’t do when she decides she’s going to do it.

She was, in so many ways, an amazing mother. She excelled at creating wonder when we were young, as well as when we were grown. She made my wedding dress when I first married. The marriage didn’t last, but the dress is still in her closet. More than 5000 seed beads adorn the train and the bodice. It was a crowning achievement, or so I thought at the time.

But since then, my mother has painted a gallery full of intricate water color and acrylic paintings. It seems pain begets beauty. I’m sad for the heartache, but the beauty is sometimes more than I can stand. How well does a woman ever really know her mother? Perusing her work, I wonder at the thought rooms I never knew existed in the woman I so resemble in more ways than one.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas 2015

Always, Christmas has been about surprises for me. The kids usually make us a list so we know what they need/want, and they often get something from that list. But I always try to have something they didn’t expect, and that will make them smile when they see it.

My husband and I don’t officially exchange gifts on Christmas or birthdays, and my kids have no money or foresight enough to think ahead and plan. But there has always been a half-hidden hope of some surprise on Christmas morning for me. I don’t think it’s out of line with the spirit of the season. We look forward with anticipation to the birth of the Christ Child, and part of the fostering of that is the anticipation of something unexpected. There’s no disappointment if no surprise is forthcoming, and a plush purple pony placed secretly in my stocking by my little one is just as precious as any other surprise that might have presented itself.

I’ve noticed, though, that since the passing of my uncle last year, my anticipation has shifted. I had no though of surprises this year, at least for myself. There was a rather bewildering surprise on this day a year ago, and it culminated in an extraordinary loss on Christmas Day. Suddenly, Christmas is all about Sam. I think it will be for years to come. And because it’s all about Sam, it is also all about creating magic for my children--all of my children--my son, my daughters, my own Special Grils and Skipping Partners who all have their very own Sam now, in me. They also have another Sam in my husband, who embodies all the qualities I miss so much in Sam.

Christmas has, for a long time now, been a dull ache for me, sending children away or receiving them back on Christmas Eve. The ache is compounded by a new sense of anticipation, a new 3 day fasting period preceding what is now a day of bright sorrow alongside joy and giving: Remembering the news of the heart attack; the helplessness; the scramble to find photos, and the remembering; awaiting the decision, which fell on Christmas Eve/Day (I suddenly realize I’m not sure which day it was), to let Sam go.

I didn’t see Sam much in the last 15 years, but he was present. He called, he wrote letters. When he saw me, at least once, he would take my face in his hands and say my name--no one says my given name anymore--Carie Christine. When he laughed, he looked so like his mother.

He is something of a patron saint of Christmas for me now. Maybe for all his Grils and Skipping Partners. I miss him. I have thought often during the last few weeks that if I have to grieve someone during Christmas, who better than someone who brought me nothing but love and joy?

I read yesterday that grief is the price of love. I think that is accurate in this life. I have lost loved ones before, but Sam's passing has taught me this like no other loss. I suddenly feel very much older, very much responsible and privileged for my relationships with my young ones. I suddenly feel as if the weight of who Sam was is squarely on my shoulders.

Monday, December 14, 2015

My Turn

Uncle Sam

You’re missing this year.
No call at Thanksgiving,
no card with your distinctive signature.
No one to take my face in his hands,
say my name.
We’ve lost something invaluable.

I curse benignly as I cut
yet another doll arm. How many doll arms
will l cut in my lifetime for these little grils
and yobs whose wants
I find difficult to pace?

You’re smiling from across the room,
an icon on my altar. I see you
everyday as I eat breakfast,
dinner with my children
all with differing expectations
of my time and talents.

It’s your fault, you know,
this drive to love them with my time.
This endless cutting, pounding, painting--
it will never be done. I’m trying so hard
to keep pace with the gifts you gave:
your mindfulness;
your remembering of us, always.
Your holding us fiercely and forever,
even when we were far away.

It’s my turn now.

George MacDonald

"Home is ever so far away in the palm of your hand, and how to get there it is of no use to tell you. But you will get there; you must get there; you have to get there. Everybody who is not at home, has to go home."

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