Thursday, December 31, 2009

Worth a Thousand Words

I have been working on preserving my family photos for years. My main effort lately has been to scan all the slides and old photos my mom has into a file and then make copies on discs for my siblings. I don't like the nightmare where Mom's house burns to the ground while she is visiting one of us and the only photo of us in front of our house in Boston with me gripping our cat in my fat toddler hands is gone forever.
So far, I have over 5000 images in the file, plenty more to go.
I made prints of some of the scanned slides and gave them to siblings and kids for Christmas. Most images have never been seen, so everyone was surprised.
It has been an interesting experience for me to relive the last 5 decades through these images. Some of my favorite are of me as a toddler being held by my dad while we are playing on the beach in Massachusetts. In one photo he is holding my hand to keep me from running out into the waves, both of us are laughing.
Then I think of the photos taken about 9 years ago, after his brain cancer was discovered, and the surgery, and the efforts to rebuild the connections to his arms and legs, but before the end. I was holding his hand while he concentrated on moving his legs for each step. Most images show both of us with determined looks on our faces, but in one we are both laughing. Then more images as he tried to continue his work, and we were there helping him. Then no more laughing images during the time when the cancer was everywhere, and we just wanted to be with him.
The photos remind me that my dad took care of me long before I took care of him.
Eventually, we all take care of each other.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Oh Come, Oh Come

I helped my mom clean her house today. There were over 20 family members and 5 dogs here for Christmas. During the last 24 hours there has been a mass exodus, and now it is just me and Mike here to help clear up. I love being here for Christmas. I don't think any of my family shops for anything in December except for food and art supplies. It is not a good idea to be at my mom's house and trying to lose weight, or wishing for a blender for Christmas. There is always plenty of home made, non-nonfat food available, and we are all busy right up to the last minute making gifts for each other. Now that many of the grandkids are in college, the activity throughout the house is multi-generational. My nieces learned how to cook the caramel fudge to the perfect soft ball stage, and how to know when to stop beating it so it was the right consistency. My sister and I were trying not to trip over each other in Mom's studio, each of us working with different mediums. I was framing pictures past midnight on Christmas Eve. My daughter gave up sleep to help Mom wrap everything.
Christmas morning, everyone is dressed and done with breakfast before lining up, youngest to oldest, to enter the living room and open stockings and presents. Years ago we started the tradition of opening each gift one at a time so everyone could see what had been created and given. I used to wonder if we were trying to outdo each other, but now I just realize that we love and trust each other enough to offer our precious creations as gifts and know they will be appreciated. This is where many of our experiments and explorations in creativity get first exposure and feed back. Over the years we have gasped, cheered, and celebrated handmade dolls, quilts, one-of-a kind books, fine lettering, metal work, paintings, drawings, original writing, sculpture, assemblages, and much more. This year there were paintings on glass, mixed media clocks, honey from my brothers own beehives, heritage photos, original poetry, and art photos. As the morning goes on, it almost becomes an emotional aerobic workout. The only competition seems to be for the one who is most excited about their gift.
It all culminates when the end of a red string appears on the floor, leading off through the rooms of the house. We follow the string up and down the stairs, out the back and in the front doors until it ends up back in the front room attached to the final and most wonderful gift. Dad was always the one to figure out something great for all of us to enjoy at the end of the string. After his death eight years ago, the siblings took over and we somehow come up with something amazing for Mom. This year, my niece had made a bronze sculpture of Mom and Dad dancing, with a music box in the base that played Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable". It was their song. She had designed the sculpture from a picture of them taken on their first date 57 years ago. Two of us had to hold Mom up when she saw it. Yeah, I think she liked it.
Okay, so the dogs didn't all get along all the time, and some of the grandkids were putting all their energy into being too cool to show excitement and no energy into saying thank you, and most of us were sleep deprived, and not everyone could be here, and we never get enough time together - it is still a wonderful way to spend Christmas. Family and creation and giving.
I think I'll come back next year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy Unbirthday

Happy Birthday to Charlotte. Happy Unbirthday to everyone else.
I had a birthday last week. I got what I wanted - time with Mike. He did the most romantic thing, he took a day off work so we could have the day together. My sister almost started crying when she heard, she thought it was so romantic. Decades ago, I would have pictured a romantic day as one that involved a flight to Paris, fancy restaurants, nice hotels, high fashion, being seen and envied. I still love to travel, and will live in very simple accommodations in order to visit far away countries. But with time, romance has become something that can happen right here and now. It has more to do with seeing than being seen.
With another birthday, here are a few more things I see:
I see that my parents really do and did love me, even when I was a young person yelling at them that they did not understand anything about me or life, and they should just get off my back, except when I needed their help of course. I see this because I really do love my kids, every moment, no matter what.
I see that the best friends are those who give and receive. Having fans seems to be a big deal these days. I don't want fans. I want friends who love me even when we don't agree, or if we have different tastes, or abilities. I want friends who share and teach and forgive. I see I have them.
I see there is nothing like family connections. I see how my family is always there for me, and loves me, no matter what.
I see that scars and wrinkles and signs of gravity on my body are signs of a life of abundance. Signs that I have been able to to bear children, create life, work hard, survive and learn from mistakes, serve often, pray fervently, endure illness and injury, love deeply enough to weep, worry, mourn, laugh and rejoice.
I see that Mike sees all of this, and loves me completely.
I see I don't need to wait for my birthday to celebrate all of that.