Gifts from the Attic Stairs

I think most people have “Aunts”.  They don’t have to be related, and they don’t have to be single, or childless, and they don’t have to be of a certain age, or even, for that matter, female, but they do have to have a love for the children (current and past) in their lives.  They are often that adult in a child’s life who says “Yes” to gooey treats an hour before dinner, or lets you wander around outside in the snow in the dusk, when a ‘real’ adult would be “tsk- tsk-ing” and worrying you to death. (And sometimes, they are the crotchety old woman next door that scolds everyone for walking on newly seeded grass!)

That isn’t to say this person is irresponsible—indeed this man or woman is usually a close friend and confidante of your parents—sometimes, it’s almost like having a bonus set of uber-cool adults who think you are just perfect.

Those aunts in my life were all nearby and I spent a good deal of time with them, and they were all ‘great’ aunts/cousins. Aunts Marse and Edith lived ‘Down Below’ and Aunts Gert and (cousin) Sis lived ‘Up Above’. Then there was of course Cousin Vivienne, in a class all by herself.

When we went to visit Davis Avenue (Up Above, the house my grandfather’s mother lived in –was born in?) it meant we could wander around a huge yard, tromp up and down the street, wave to Mr. Pine next door, and generally be loud and crazy. Or come inside (to this day I could walk you through this house with a scary amount of detail), pretend to play with the huge cabinet radio, crawl under the china cabinet and remove the toys left there for us, or sit in the kitchen with the adults and have “tea”… milky, watered-down tea in a china cup and saucer, with Grandma Elaine, Mary T, Boy McNally, Sis and Gert.

Going ‘Down Below’ (Victory Blvd, the house where my grandfather was born) often meant we had to stay inside, as the back ‘yard’ was really the parking lot for the funeral home. We couldn’t play ball or run about if there was a funeral going on, but if there wasn’t, we could go inside and visit and say “Hi” to Uncle George. But more often than not, it was a time to play with the statue in the living room–“Johnny Get Your Gun”– or play Bride in the huge mirror standing between two windows. Again, the amount of minute detail I could offer up 33 years after the last time I stepped inside boggles my mind.  (and I wasn’t taking photos yet, sadly.)

The upstairs of these houses is sketchy in my memory (but not as vague as the upstairs of Aunt Gene’s, where NO ONE was allowed to go) but I do recall the upstairs of Victory Blvd. At the top of the stairs was a bathroom. Palatial in size, the room had to have once been a bedroom. The toilet was on the far end and the floor slanted and the claw foot tub was on the opposite wall…Then there was a bedroom door, and then, the Attic Door.

2010 dec5

Gifts of LOVE: Many may recognize my “Bride and Groom” from my wedding cake…the little Dutch couple, a gift from Aunt Marse, as were the angels and bunny. The red mirror was Cousin Viv’s, the embroidery Evelyn’s, the sewing basket belonged to my husband’s grandmother. The table cloth is from Mrs. Hayes, and yes, that really IS a toaster from Aunt Gene.

The attic steps was where Aunt Marse would take us on birthdays, and she would open the door, and bring out some manner of little treasure for us to have as a gift. (Oh, to have had a crack at that attic when they moved out. The old photographic negatives of Uncle Henri’s alone make me cry to know they were lost.)

These gifts were given because these aunts were loving, and did not necessarily have the means to be handing out $5.00 bills to every great niece or nephew that came along with a birthday. (Indeed, I don’t know if they did this with all the others.)

Sis gave me a turquoise ring on my 12th birthday, not from the stairs, but something that my grandmother gave her in 1927. It was the last gift she gave me before she died. Grandma was upset, because she was SURE I would lose it. It is on my finger to this day.

Cousin Vivienne gave me a wonderful little mirror that hung in her apartment. Aunt Gene gave me crochet work, photographs, my credenza and a fantastic old toaster (grudgingly, but that is a whole different storySmile with tongue out)

And cranky Mrs. Hayes from next door once gave me a lovely crocheted tablecloth.

Now, Aunt Gael and my mother-in-law Evelyn have continued this tradition.

Gael often gifts me with some trinket or other that she owned, and loved and cared for. Evelyn, knowing I quilt, gave me her mothers little sewing basket, and one Christmas, gifted everyone with embroidered pieces that over the years the women in the family created with their hands.

These gifts, whether made or simply loved by the person giving them, are more precious and should be considered of more value than any $25 gift card to Old Navy, on any gift giving occasion. The connection to family, to place, to tradition, these are the things that make the holidays ‘family times’, that create memories that the next generation passes on.

Cracked, glued, broken, valued. Loved.

(Birthday cakeHappy Birthday to Thomas and my SIL Matt!Gift with a bow)

Baby, come back…

All of the art that I create, either to keep or to give away, holds a deep and precious place in my heart.

There is always an internal tug-of-war to the giving of something that takes so much time and energy. First there is the creative and psychic energy that is required to contemplate something into existence, and then the actual on-the-clock time to design and actually make said object.

Maybe this shouldn’t be so. Maybe as I create, I should allow that part of me to separate, and become its own being, allow it to find its way in the world, alone and without my loving arms around it.

Letting something precious out into the universe, unprotected by my hands any longer, is exactly akin to allowing your child to climb up the steps onto the school bus for the first time, watching and waving long beyond the time that they have turned away from the window to chatter with their newly found friends.

The bus comes back, and the child, victorious at succeeding at separation, but thrilled to bits to tell you every single thing that has happened from the moment the bus pulled away, runs down the steps and into your arms.

And yet, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, you keep bringing the child to the bus stop, to the train station, to the airport. One day, they have to make it on their own.

Do you make things to give to people with an expectation of how they will use or display said object? Do you worry about whether the blood, sweat and tears that went into its creation is appropriately appreciated?

Can you gift-wrap something that spoke to you so strongly during its birthing, and know that wherever you send it, it will be happy?

Or do you worry that somehow, your baby won’t be appreciated…(That his sense of humor is not understood, that his quirky behaviors rattle other people, that your little love will not be voted ‘Most Likely To Succeed’, ‘Mr. Popularity’ or ‘Most Beautiful Baby’?)

Are you miffed if you visit the recipient one day and don’t see your masterpiece displayed with the honor you feel it deserves? Do you b#t%h that everything you’ve ever made and given to Aunt So and So has been relegated to the linen closet because it doesn’t match her decor?

Does the quilt you made your mother sit in a hope chest, because its “too nice” to actually put on the bed?

Did your grandmother knit a sweater for your son, that you grinned through clenched teeth a “thank you” and then you packed it away because the colors she chose where oh-so-not-trendy and today?

When you say that you think that handmade gifts are better than store bought, do you mean it, or does it just sound less commercial and greedy? Do you think that right up till the time you receive something that doesn’t meet your standards, but was made with loving hands?

I’ve read blogs and forum posts where the very same collection of people who carry on about how perfect their children are, how creative their handmade gifts will be and how tasty the homemade baking that they will do is, turn around and complain about the above.

They have said that they never eat the homemade gifts from a certain person because they’ve seen their kitchen; teachers have stated all homemade food gifts go directly into the trash after the children get on the bus; and inevitably the day after Christmas there will be whining and astonishment that their mother-in-law would even think that they would dress their child in such an obviously handmade sweater!

How hypocritical are you, really?

I am working on something that I may or may not turn into gifts, and if I do, I don’t quite know who the recipients will be yet.

My muse is still working out the details. (Timmy understands to the degree that he actually commented the other day on whether or not these guys had ‘spoken’ to me yet… They hadn’t then, but I am starting to hear their voices)IMG_5475

When something you have made returns to you, after having lived a life in the outside world, you welcome it home in the same way you accept into your arms your child, at any age, for any reason.

I received in the mail, totally out of the blue and way past the time that I would have believed it possible, the quilted wall hanging I finished for my Nana in 1999.

She died two years ago, and moved out of the home where it had hung (and had I visited her and saw it hanging) 18 months prior to that, and yet last month, a box arrived from her estate lawyer, stating the new owners of her home found this, and wanted it to be returned. I am thrilled to have it home….Machine pieced, hand quilted and probably the first thing I ever FINISHED!!!IMG_5478


45 days till Christmas, folks! I hope those projects are fully in swing already for a wonderful handmade holiday season!


Christmas Gifting styles….

Can I interest you in a perfectly unscientific little poll?

I am a gift giver. (Well, it should be more properly termed a reformed gift-giver, or a gift-giver in my fantasies).  I can think of few things more enjoyable than walking through stores, fairs, museums—anywhere, all year, and wanting to stop and buy YOU something.

Something that brings to mind YOUR smile, or laugh, or some time or event we’ve shared when I spot it. And I want to stop and purchase this little token, tuck it away and wait for Christmas.

Bet you didn’t know that, did ya? It’s not for lack of wishing that I don’t have a goodie basket sitting, waiting for you.

I used to have a closet, and I called it the “Yah NEVA Know” closet. Because I worked in retail, and often in the mall, I was exposed to all the things, all the year through. I knew better than to admire item X in April, and expect to go back in late December to claim it as the perfect gift. So, if the price was right, and it seemed the thing for you as a gift, into the closet it went.

This closet, by the way, was not simply for gifting. At one point, a cousin who lived with me exclaimed that one of the most fascinating things to him was that if he felt the need to have object A, which was needed as a part for something else, he simply asked me, and I would pull the object of his desire out of the Yah Neva Know closet. (It saved many a late night run to the craft store to make a school project for Arlie, too.)

I’ve had to stop this. My credit cards thank me, really they do. In real life, my gift-giving list is relatively short, and not particularly excessive. We don’t give excessive gifts (well, except to each other), and I don’t exchange with a long list of people.

I have discovered that while I love the hunt–the thought and discovery when collecting and creating a gift, and I put myself into those  expressions of love– that more often than not, the giftee doesn’t seem to appreciate the effort, to “get it”. Or we simply don’t exchange gifts with each other any more, for any number of reasons.

It takes a lot of psychic energy to defend yourself against the perceived lack of enthusiasm, so too often of late, I have become a gift card giver. And in my mind, much of the excitement and anticipation is taken from the experience of Christmas, because I LOVE to watch someone open my gifts and see their faces…I know I am usually more excited to watch them open them than to be opening my own!

There is still a small list of friends for whom buying gifts is still exciting (even IF the gifts  sit unopened for 8 months, till we see each other..hey, Christmas is a state of mind!)

But in my fantasy world, I’d be driving Little Saint Nick up and down the East Coast for weeks leading up till Christmas, dropping off all manner of goodies collected and made, just for you. (I’m sorry, let me re-phrase that_ I’d be having Timmy drive Little Saint Nick; I’d be in the passenger seat, LOL)

So, now a poll. Where do you fall in this Christmas chaos that will be descending upon us sooner than you would even believe?