Dear Holidays: Let’s Take It Easy

cjr_iphone-225

What do carved pumpkins, specters lazing on porches, rustling cornstalks and twinkling orange lights do for you? Bring a robust cheer to your routine day? Provide inspiration for your own DIY frenzy? Or do they trigger a mixed response– as they do me?

Creative Halloween decorations make me a bit nervous. It’s like being pleased by something that also provokes wariness: what is behind this rampage of homespun design? The first displays of skeletons and gargantuan webs stretched across porches and climbed by black spangled spiders are fun but don’t seem entirely benign. And it’s not that I have an abhorrence of Halloween. As a kid I had a blast running (gently) amuck in energy-charged neighborhoods in my funky costumes, thrilled as my hand-decorated paper bag filled with cavity-inviting, scrumptious treats. For many I years enjoyed going out with grandchildren, though times changed and everyone is more cautious.

But these fanciful decorations are a precursor to all that follows–Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sure enough, as I wander the neighborhood chuckling over decor, I’m trapped, thinking of holidays when I prefer to not be. It’s October. Bring on bonfires, hot mulled cider and apple strudel, crispy vibrant leaves, that shock of wind with a hint of an edge. But please hold the smorgasbord of Thanksgiving displays and those creeping  signals of impending Christmas hullabaloo.

Lest you get the idea that I don’t enjoy a redolent spread on our old oak dining table or getting a fresh-cut fir tree from foggy country acreage–I do. And this year is no different. I am also a Christian so Christmas narrates events that resonate deeply. But all the holiday celebrations that are touted as essential to my well-being take a low spot on a list full of other things. That is part of the problem: I don’t really have time for all of this. It matters little that I don’t work for a paycheck now. I’m more than busy with what matters–plus a fair amount of frivolity tossed in daily. Why mar it with mad pressure to make these holidays jollier than last year, expectations of “hostess with the mostest”? And a panoply of gifts? We have five adult children and their partners; five grandchildren and additional folks. I love to give interesting items to others, do so any old time of the year. I don’t so appreciate hunting and foraging amid throngs for stuff trotted out and designated for commercialized holidays. Gifts that may not click with me or, likely, the giftee.

And I don’t crave a lot of visual stimuli to remind me of holidays. My home doesn’t need to be orange pumpkin-marked, scarecrow-adorned–nor cheaply tinseled, swathed in massive red bows, fake snow sprayed in clumps and bits. I do like baking my few favorite holiday cookies and treats; we all love eating them. I am no longer truly cooking–I gradually opted out–so you can’t count on me to stuff and baste that turkey in November, though my spouse will (and enjoy it, too). I’ll make hearty salads and cut up veggies for steaming. And enhance the table with a variety of candles, a centerpiece and my good yellow (or pine-green or deep burgundy) tablecloth.

I can assure you I’m not stingy or curmudgeonly. In fact, as others grumble about the holiday season, I’ve tended to anticipate the fun, richer moments it affords. But the last few years we’ve privately said: “Let’s skip the holidays–maybe go to Hawaii!” as if we mean it a little. We’re a little older, and perhaps less enthused as well as underwhelmed by commercial overkill. Plus, let’s face it, there is no sprawling country domain to which our family comes to gather–the one adorning Christmas cards or gazed upon in movies when a child. No bell-ringing sleigh ride over hill and dale to Grandmother’s (our humble, cheery) shining bright house.

But it’s more than that for me. And I am trying to sort it out.

My niece and nephew-in-law are moving today, all the way to Texas. This may seem irrelevant but they are two more whose exodus changes life’s greater landscape. I didn’t see them often over the twenty-eight years my niece, Lori, lived there–they resided in suburban Seattle. I saw them more at Lori’s mom’s, my oldest sister’s home, whenever I visited her and my zestful brother-in-law. I’m wondering why now–I could have made even more of an effort. We could have made more memories–I enjoy being an aunt and I don’t only like my handful of nieces, I love them, of course.

Last week we got together with much of the Portland family in attendance to send them off. But she also wanted to bring items she had sorted from her mother’s last home. Because my sis, Marinell, passed away a year and a half ago; her well-loved husband, six months later. Still, I hummed as I shined up our apartment and put on an outfit that reminded me of my sister and our gabby shopping trips. Recalled the good times Lori and her husband and we have shared in the past. We would be a small, chattering, motley group. I made coffee and tea, assembled shortbread cookies on a floral glass serving plate. Lit two small candles in amber owl holders as a nod to October’s wiles.

We assembled: my remaining sister, my oldest brother and his wife, a niece and her guy, Lori and her husband and my spouse and I. Lori opened an photgraph album. Family energy seemed to spill from pictures, those noteworthy or ordinary moments created by siblings and parents, our large extended family. A faint shiver fell upon me–those gone were with us. As we reminisced, I thought of the remainder. Moved to different geographies if not in the land of the sentient. My other brother and sister-in-law are in Virginia; most of our grown children thrive in other states.

This is the way it goes, I well know, and want to believe I accept: we are born with fanfare; hopefully live to the fullest and the best we can; exit the world alone or surrounded by whomever cares. We make our transitory marks in the world, are forgotten. We come together, are broken apart, share joys, sorrows and countless mundane moments that structure our lives.

Lori unwrapped from tissue paper some hand-sewn clothing belonging to Marinell, and preserved for fifty years or more. Dresses and a blouse and skirts my mother had once expertly made. As she held them each up, I saw Marinell once more in her features and mannerisms. My hands smoothed the taffeta and polished cotton, lace and netting, examined the interesting old buttons. Lori offered any my vintage-loving daughters (or I) might enjoy as a gift. I chose ones that seemed suitable and knew how pleased they’d be pleased to keep and even wear, finely made one-of-a kind pieces by their grandmother. (For more about her creations, please see this post: Handmade: Being a Seamstress’ Daughter)

Suddenly fresh sadness caught me off guard. I looked at Lori. Saw it in her eyes, too, but we decided no, not then, not such tender sadness to complicate a last visit. I appreciated the past but wanted to celebrate her movement forward, toward new possibilities now that her sons were grown and her mother and stepfather (really her second father, she felt) gone. We all went off to an Italian restaurant, filled up with good food, stories and debated ideas, then pffered a delayed Bon Voyage. It was hard. I wondered what Christmas would look like in Texas for Lori and her husband, prayed it might be imbued with times of ease and joy as well as any fanfare they desire. I want you to be truly happy I thought as we blinked back tears, exchanged warm hugs.

So when I think of the holidays, I also think of this: how many have gone on in one way or another. Family has always been a high priority. I was the last born, a surprise to a woman who was already swamped with four close in age and teaching other children, as well as my father’s more public career. Forty years old at my birth (five years after her last), I never knew her as truly young though her spriti was bright and strong. I grew up with an overachieving, colorful family and then, at age 13, my siblings were no longer present. They were all college students and after that, they followed their careers’ paths. Two remain in the Pacific Northwest and are in their seventies, both engaged in full lives. (And we remain here partly because of my husband’s career–perhaps we’ll away, who knows?)

It is now much the same with my children’s situations. One, an arts center outreach and marketing manager, lives in California with her husband. Another is a chaplain/minister in Virginia. A third is an associate art professor/sculptor in South Carolina. They are working where they have jobs and count their blessings. They are, excepting the California offspring, very far from here and she is unable to get away from work around holiday seasons. Two more reside in our city; three grandchildren are also here. But the crowd around our table or living room is becoming smaller than I’d like it.

My parents passed away decades ago. I think often of visiting my mother-in-law, in her late eighties, in Florida. I bring it up to my husband often, with a growing sense of urgency. I so appreciate Beth’s inquisitive mind, exacting language and positive attitude. Her faith and will to persevere. She’d be so pleased to see us again. So tonight he is researching our options. It’s possible we’ll go before or after Christmas. I’m getting excited by that idea. Hawaii can wait–maybe next year. Maybe not.

Suddenly the holidays are feeling more enticing. I don’t have to worry; I can take it easy. Keep my priorities clear. Who needs what will be put aside or eventually tossed away? It is family, always family that sings to my soul outside my individual creative endeavors. I don’t need fancy or unique or glittery or snowy. I’d rather give and receive love, time, talk, a variety of activity. I vow to stay well focused on the essential core I value. Whether a small grouping or bigger one, whether family and friends or others in need: I want to share myself. Kindly, wisely, with laughter and hugs. Even without splendid trimmings which can distract too much. Alright, I do admit one small orange straw pumpkin and a white ceramic one came out for my niece and all. Just for the table centerpiece. And there will be an evergreen (with berries) bough or wreath on our door. Meanwhile, it is still October, the days shaped by brightly drifting leaves and the musical rain, evenings made better with a big cozy blanket and fragrant mugs of clove and cinnamon tea. I’m keeping it simpler from here on out.

cjr_iphone-224

Mrs. Snow’s Way to Paradise

Photo by Bill Owens
Photo by Bill Owens

We had everything and it was all for sale. Most all the time. You think I joke? I was the witness who recorded it all with my Kodak, and if you looked over my meticulous records from back then, you’d see the hundreds of pictures I organized in one year time spans are precise close-ups. In full color. They’re starting to mildew in the battered file cabinets in my basement, part of my inheritance. I can’t for the life of me figure out why I should have kept them but after dad’s funeral my brother brought them here, protesting that our old house looked better without six rusting cabinets. Every last piece of junk had been taken to the dump or auctioned off. We gave proceeds to charity as dad wished. But since we were to share the house sale profit, I decided to get on board and took the cabinets.

That was some time ago. I have thought of it again because I’m moving. Paring down.

I kept records from about age eleven to age fifteen. There were various bits and pieces, big and small, carried in and out of the house before and after that. But by my mid-teens I had boys and softball on my mind, and I was starting to fantasize about escaping. Dad decided I should take photographs because I was always horsing around with my camera. Dad thought I had an interest when, really, I didn’t. Not at first. But it was the only way to spend personal time with him. We went on tri-county jaunts as he picked over the throwaways in other people’s garages, barns and back yards. Whenever I had time I’d help document his purchases or trades. The pictures helped a lot, he said.

We lived in a two-story colonial style house with a three car garage. Dad was a doctor, an osteopath, and mom worried about him while she raised Gene and me, Krista. He kept hours that most doctors wouldn’t so he could have long week-ends to wander city and countryside in search of the next big find. It might be a five dollar tool kit manufactured for kids in 1940 or a cracked bed frame made of prime cherry. I never could figure out what he was looking for exactly. I always asked as we got going in his special ancient truck.

“Well, it depends on what they’ve got, then what I can find. Then it depends on the haggling. I might come down to destiny, in a way.”

I had my freckled forearm on the rolled-down window, hand catching and being pushed by the burning Texas breeze. I’d check him out to see if he was feeling optimistic about fate or not that day. I could read his face; it was a good look that time.

“Well, maybe you’ll hit the jackpot.”

He smiled lazily, a gold cap catching the sunshine. “You never can tell. We have to loosely define ‘jackpot’, Kris. A handsome old hand-painted sign might be better than a mirror with a gold-plated frame. My treasure, your cast-off. That’s the fun of the hunt.”

I daydreamed as he drove, but as we approached a dirt driveway that wound alongside a creek, he let the truck idle. He stuck his head out to get a better look, clapping his palm on his hat as a breeze gusted. He always wore a weathered Panama hat when we were out and about and made me wear one, too, to help keep skin cancer at bay. Dad was like that, always advocating for the welfare of youth and happy longevity of adult patients. But when it came to junk, he had less sense.

I saw what he spotted: a rusting but sturdy blue bicycle and an assortment of round metal tubs and an oblong trough. I could imagine what mom would say if he brought that trough home. The very thought of where his finds had been and what they had been used for distressed her no end.

Dad got out and made a beeline for the trough.

“Someone could plant flowers in this and decorate a back yard, don’t you think? In good shape. Just needs thorough washing. And how about these tubs? Three of them all different sizes. More potential–storage, water containers for creatures, plantings, just paint and decorate them.”

I thought: water what? A horse in the city? A thirsty skunk?

That’s when the woman came out, her hands jammed into baggy grey sweater pockets. She looked about my dad’s age, attractive with a high ponytail and ruddy cheeks. But she didn’t look that congenial at first. I didn’t see a No Trespassing sign.

She put hand to eyes to block out the high noon glare.”You looking for somethin’?”

Dad hopped out of the truck, offered his bony hand. She didn’t offer hers but saw me and nodded.

“Jud Jenkins, Dr. Jenkins. I’m always looking for something good to buy. You selling any of this?”

As soon as they hear he’s a doctor, they tend to get friendlier. You can almost make out money signs in their eyes as they try to mask their interest. But not this one.

“Do you see a For Sale sign? That would mean Rex is formally in business.” She chuckled but it wasn’t cheery, more like heh heh.

“Well, no, can’t say I do. But you have them sitting out here by the roadside, so I thought…why not stop and see?”

“We have an overflow is all. We have a huge shed, looked like a pole barn once, and these didn’t fit so Rex, he stacks things up where he sees fit until he takes them to the junkyard. Or wherever. Because I sure can’t have his mess in the front yard, no sir.” She took her hand down and squinted at him as she stepped closer toward me. “I guess you and your daughter are trolling, right? Hoping for a few bites? How come you’re not out with your friends, dear? No boyfriend yet?” She laughed out loud this time and it was refreshing rather than irritating. It made her whole face change from mildly stormy to carefree. “No sir, I’m not selling a thing.”

“Afternoon.” A man, turned out to be Rex, emerged from a sparse line of scrubby trees. “Help you with something?”

He walked right to my dad, big man with a congenial air. The woman sauntered over to me. We watched a moment as the two, Rex substantial and my dad rail thin, shook hands in that hearty, welcoming way that says they’re members of the same club, strangers no more.

“Well, there goes an hour or two of your time, darlin’. The two fools will find plenty to yak about. Want some iced tea?”

I asked my dad if I could go to the house with her and he nodded, barely looking up.

Her porch was open, large. In need of some wood replacement. Sheltering. I settled on a rocker and she brought out two sweat-beaded glasses. When she sat down we both drank fast and noisy. She waited until I had something to say, which was a change. Adults usually wanted to dominate conversation, ask things you didn’t want to answer.

“You got a nice place out here, ma’am. I wish we had a quiet porch like this one. A pretty creek.”

She pushed wispy brunette bangs from her eyes. “I agree. It’s a good spot. It was worth marrying Rex just to enjoy this house! It needs fixing up but what doesn’t? He has the worst portion in life, working three jobs, and me just checking people in at the motel down the road on week-ends.” She took a smaller sip.” How come your dad buys junk when he’s a doctor? Surely unusual!”

My eyebrows shot up involuntarily. Being direct seemed her forte. “Oh, you know, he likes to collect stuff. Then sell it for fun.”

“Gather and hoard, you mean. Maybe cash in occasionally. I bet he has things stuffed everywhere just like Rex.”

“Well…not quite. Mom wouldn’t allow it to creep into our main living areas. That’s her domain, she says.”

The woman slumped a little, head leaning on the chair back. “So, she’s like me that way. Have to fight for and protect our space. For peace of mind.”

That struck me. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Mom was getting overrun with dad’s collections and interests. I felt she was impatient with something pretty harmless. Not that it couldn’t be an embarrassment to me, too, but he kept certain doors closed. Dad was happy with his hobby, just like mom was happy going to the gym, reading a romance book a week and having her friends over for bridge or canasta on Thursday nights. But they fought about it off and on.

“My manners, gosh, I’m Delia Snow.”

“Krista. Kris.”

“Your mother and I are certainly not much alike, I’m sure you see that. But we do have this in common: we can’t persuade our husbands that the way to paradise is clean and simple. It’s a good motto for me. Clean and simple…”

Delia Snow was going weird on me, talking about paradise when I was getting comfortable. But I wanted to be polite to someone so different and interesting.

“How’s that again?”

“Paradise. It’s having things tidy, pared down, really livable in my sweet house. My brain is less cluttered that way. But it’s also keeping things straight, simple in all ways. Knowing what counts. It sure works for me.”

“Huh, yeah, she’d agree with that, maybe. But she does have a lot of dresses and shoes in her walk-in closet.”

“Imagine that! Her own closet. Well, we gather what we like the most. I have plants, it’s a little manicured jungle in there, but other than that, only what we need. He fills up the shed because he seems to like nearly everything. I know he hides things in the trees out back. Tries to drag home more. Sometimes I put down my foot. Oftentimes not.”

She made a whistling sound as she exhaled. We got quiet, rested in heat laced with shadowy coolness. I wondered about the jungle in her house, what sort of plants she grew and if she had any children. Could I be bold, too? Then Dad and Rex were ambling back to the house, talking as if they were the best of friends.

“I married Rex ten years ago. I didn’t expect he’d have all this mess. But he has such a good way about him….”

As if he’d heard her, he lifted his hand; she returned the gesture.

“Gotta take the great with the nutty, Kris.” She got up. “Aw, you’re too young to worry! Let’s find out what they got themselves into or out of!”

I hated to leave and followed her. We enjoyed the men’s account of things, hung out on the porch a little longer with fresh iced teas, swapped pleasantries. We might have been lifelong neighbors though we lived in different parts of the county. An exceptional surprise for me.

“I’d so rather check out your shed, Rex Snow, but I have an appointment in an hour, unusual for Friday afternoon.”

He was disappointed, anyone could see that. They shared a couple more trade secrets, then that was it. Dad and I said our farewells.

Delia was waving at me as we turned onto the rutted road. I felt a little sad and asked dad if we’d ever return.

He shrugged. “You never know, my girl. Always looking for something good.” He wiped sweat off his neck and frowned. “His prices were actually a tad high. Tough time settling.”

Dad had gotten the tubs, that nasty trough and near-useable bicycle. I took pictures of them from a couple different angles. They looked almost arty in the weeds. He didn’t tell me what he paid. I didn’t care. We were done which meant I could do whatever I wanted with the rest of my day. He’d want to have a garage sale Saturday and would ask me or Gene to help out. It was Gene’s turn if I could talk him into it. But he was the least tolerant of dad’s ways.

On the ride back stinging wind whipped my hair and I hung onto my hat. No AC, a drawback to his sturdy truck. I recalled what Delia said about her and mom. How they were similar. Mom would’ve had a laugh over that so I wasn’t going to tell her. Delia had something mom didn’t. She seemed to know how to live with Rex’s junk lust. It gave me an inkling of hope for my parents. I worried all the time that mom was going to leave dad, take us with her. He made good money and he was the best dad we could have, overall. But she thought he had a few screws loose, were getting looser with time. Why else would he have to collect all that, waste money on trash, cram full our basement and garage? I didn’t know. As long as he didn’t stack stuff out by the pool… okay, sometimes it got to me. But it could be fun. Like meeting Mrs. Snow. (I loved her name both ways; she was so unlike people I knew.) I wanted to see what dad would do with the trough, if he’d sell it. Maybe I was more like him than I admitted. I didn’t know yet which way I was headed. But things had started to feel more claustrophobic. It could’ve been my parents and his stuff. Or just me.

Several years later, after mom left and just as dad was getting sick, I thought of the Snows again. If Rex was still collecting and Delia was keeping things simple and clean indoors, tending her mini-jungle. I drove out Redstone Road, surprised to note it was only fifteen miles from home. I couldn’t find their private dirt road at first, the weeds were so tall, but then I saw a tiny old and dented trailer just off the road, the sort that only one or two people can fit in to sleep. There was a For Sale sign on it.

I turned into their drive. Hesitated. The skimpy trees had grown so tall, the road so narrow. I felt guilty, like a trespasser or a long gone cousin who had failed to stop by. I could barely see the porch at the end. I backed out and took off.

I didn’t want to get out of the truck, find someone else there. Or worse, one of them still there, the other gone, whichever way it might have turned out. I wanted to remember Delia and me on the porch, talking like we knew each other, waiting for my dad and her husband to brag about who got the best deal. Then all four of us– me drinking sweet tea with the grown-ups. It had seemed good and right, like life was supposed to be about taking chances and maybe meeting up with destiny. About making friends wherever you roamed. That woman made things excellent for me a couple of lazy hours when I was almost fifteen.

I’ve decided. I’m getting rid of the old pictures and files. The crazy collections, the valuable and worthless junk are gone now. There’s no reason to keep moldering records of what has gone before me, what has been exchanged. Sold or trashed. I know what was gained and lost. I was there. In the end, dad enjoyed everything he discovered. And I had far more than I realized. Even a little spot of paradise. At least, it was for me.

 

Rock, Paper, Scissors: Tools for Life

DSCN5975

This isn’t about the game often played by kids. But it is telling that these are important enough materials from which to create a game. Value, even power, can be found in the simplest of objects. It can be easy to overlook them, yet when desired they need to be close at hand. Several events the past couple weeks have made me reaffirm their good and various uses.

My eyes are resting on split “thunder eggs” my son brought back from rock hunting in eastern Oregon. Broken open, they reveal lovely mineral crystals. Josh is an outdoors pilgrim, someone always alert to and in search of earth’s gifts, attuned to the power and complexity found therein. His interest in rocks and minerals has gained momentum the last couple of years. He talks of them fondly as he spreads them out on a cabinet, arranges a few on his mantel. In his hands they become more themselves as he explains what he sees and what he’s learned. His children camp, hike and nature hunt with him. My grandchildren can identify and hold forth on quartz, slate, granite, mica and jade as if they were common household goods. The grandson safeguards them in little cloth bags. But mostly they just love to touch, look. Prismatic minerals wink in the light and reveal an aged beauty.

DSCN5969

My husband gathers river stones; he carries one in his pocket. I have a revolving group of agates from Oregon’s beaches that have a place on my bookcase. I admire them each time I get a book or dust. Rocks fortify me. They make indoors and outdoors landscapes more inviting with their sculptural applications, multiple textures and geological history. People build with them–houses and fireplaces and fences. Or towering cairns within tide pools we frequent. You can smash things with them. A smaller rock, a venomous insect that looks like it wants to keep house with you, a nut or seed that has interesting innards.

DSCF8072

Stones and rocks belong to us as much as to the earth. The dark forms beckon from watery homes. Rest beneath us on a forest floor, line paths and roads, roll from hillsides and mountains to our feet. As children we find them endlessly entertaining–to throw at trees, skip across water, to build small designs and mark hopscotch numbers on asphalt (more rock). They can calm us, snug in our palms when nervous. We contemplate one found in the path as if meant for our eyes alone. There is nothing quite like a stone in hand if cool and smooth, shaped to fit right there. Our earth can be carried with us and that is no small thing.

Paper. I almost am afraid to speak of it! People recycle it which is fine, but don’t want to give you receipts or bags at the store. There is talk about how it is disappearing as if trees weren’t replanted, clearcut areas not being reforested. I live in the Pacific Northwest–we have trees galore. We sometimes hug them here. So I try to be thrifty with paper but I like to have it around to use.

Physical books are taking up less room at the big chain bookstores. Our home is dominated by books, mostly used ones as I do want to participate in the recycling bit. And there is paper everywhere in the form of prints, paintings and drawings. There are gifts from family and friends made of paper products. I print things from the computer that are useful, often filed away. Paper in my hand is still important–to see it, handle it, smell it.

DSCN5971

What do my grandchildren want to do when they arrive? We draw with pen and pencil. Cut and construct things from paper. Paint with my watercolors on paper. Erect small buildings from geometric shapes and fly planes made of it. We use cards made of paper, keep score on scorecards during Yahtzee. We play checkers and Scrabble on cardboard game boards. Decorations are created from colorful sheets as well as chains, crowns, birthday cards. Paper defines many activities. I always have plenty of it around. I scibble lines of poems dreams, or ideas in notebooks when awakening in the dead of night. I shudder to think of the art that would not created if not for everyday yet extraordinary paper. Last week I sketched an old building I saw when visiting my daughter in New York and it was restful, quite happiness-making. Ah! paper!

Though not noted in the title, I must mention tape. I was at the post office yesterday and needed tape to secure the envelope carrying a gift to a daughter. A last eight of an inch was ripped from a roll left for customers and when I stepped up to the window, the employee didn’t have any, either. I had a moment of concern.

“No tape? I need this envelope better secured; there’s a good book in there!”

The woman smiled patiently. “Yes, that tape disappears before you know it. Even if it isn’t crucial, people have to use it. But I’ll find some before it’s mailed. No worries.”

Easy for her to say. My little parcel was likely the least of the office’s concerns. And I am certain sturdy tape helps packages make their way intact. As it should; that is its design and function.

I have packed up households many times over decades and thank goodness for cardboard boxes and tape, otherwise my things would end up in shabby piles, leaving a path from room to moving truck or van. Dispossessed. But that isn’t the only function. Try making papery things without it–a sailboat, a hat, a baking soda and vinegar volcano, decorations. Think of all the pictures on the frig that fell down due to cheap magnets: tape to the rescue. I used to roll out butcher block paper by the yards for our kids to draw on, tape it on the wall and let them have at it. Voila, a mural.

???????????????????????????????

Anything that doesn’t want to be stapled or paper-clipped requires tape. Wrapping gifts, repairing torn book covers, fixing a loose hem in a rush, securing a spare pink shower curtain to a bedroom window before you have found the right curtain or rod. Nothing is safe in the home without tape at the ready. On the other hand, I have seen my kids and grandchildren tape each other’s mouths shut or fingers together; tape can be used for surprising things. I once affixed my car’s sagging bumper up with heavy-duty electrical tape until it could be repaired. I would never have made it this far without tape. I like to peruse it in the hardware, all the colors and variations feeling like creative stimuli. I won’t run out of tape.

??????????

Before we had scissors we had knives or very sharp rocks (see: rocks, again). Although box cutters and utility knives are handy for some jobs, scissors can be required. Very sharp ones are preferred when something needs to be divided into various lengths. I used to love watching my mother cut fabric with her worn Wiss scissors or the nice Fiskars. She had eye-hand coordination that I deeply admired. She looked a second, then slid those scissors across wafer-thin, even fragile material with nary a catch. Velvets, corduroys, taffeta and woolens required more careful cutting but edges always were clean and exact. She knew how to wield that cutting tool.

I use various scissors to open food packages, trim nails, slice open heavier-gauge envelopes, refresh flower stems, cut up meat, tame thorny bushes, size wrapping paper and curl ribbon, even up wayward bangs, remove pictures from magazines for collages I keep planning on creating. But mostly, I wouldn’t consider raising a family without scissors anymore than I could feature that without tape and rocks. How would we make paper dolls or tiny boxes? Exquisite snowflakes? Mobiles or booklets? Cheery Christmas trees and floating planes?

??????????

Sometimes I think we have become too sophisticated and trendy in our wanting and acquiring. There are more gadgets than I will ever use out there. I was recently at a store that was full of customers laden with things I hadn’t known about. Or didn’t need. A garlic smasher? How about the flat side of a knife? Boxes of bright, many-sized metallic clips for chip bags? How about using big paper clips–how about tape? I’m not against progress, investing in a tool that works far better at a reasonable cost. But it is the simple things I find myself going back to and appreciating.

It is what those basic tools can do for us–for less hassle and cash–that I enjoy. They create avenues of exploration. Solve problems. Take care of an emergency. Make something beautiful or silly. Create a way to say “I love you” and “thank you”. Take us into a world enlivened by constructive activity, help us use time in a leisurely fashion. Make it curiously satisfying.

My parents were educated folks yet I can recall my father re-hairing a violin or cello bow, scissors and glue at the ready. Above his workbench was an array of tools that helped make damaged things new. And I can see my mother with several straight pins held between her lips as she folded a hem, and hear her instructing me to cut the thread so many inches, then try my hand at it finishing her work. 

I well remember how I cut out and taped pictures on a large poster board of Grecian islands or Alaskan wilderness I wanted to visit, of admirable people or fashions. There were poems I was compelled to write with colorful letters snipped from magazines. The posters were hung above my desk. I frequently changed the exuberant or moody creations. My youth, my thoughts and dreams, were plastered there thanks to all the basic tools.

Living has always seemed very hands-on to me even though I often camp out in my brain, too. Doing, making and fixing things brings knowledge and satisfaction, and that is worth every effort. I hope others still often well celebrate the humble rock, paper, scissors. Pick one up. Discover something surprising. Develop something fresh for the heck of it. Fix an error. Make something whole again. Let something unexpected and fun happen before you forget the simplest things.

DSCN5975