beautiful things, creativity, David, death, grief, love, mother, paper, things

What We Keep

What do the things we choose to keep say about us?

I recently shared a mixed media piece I created using objects that had either been my mother’s or reminded me of my mother, a project directly related to the theme of my upcoming book, Called to Be Creative.

Most of the those small mementos had been stored away in drawers and boxes. I love having them displayed where I can see them  now. Since then, I’ve been collecting items that remind me of my husband David; things like the last piece of jewelry he purchased for me, the tiger pin I wore when I was a waitress at Sambos, (where we met), and our 25th anniversary newspaper announcement. I’m planning an artist-facilitated “Memory Mixed Media” program at my workplace in February, when I’ll complete the project.

With all the talk today of the Kon-Mari method of decluttering and the value of simplifying our lives and homes, why save any memorabilia at all? These art pieces take me on a sentimental journey, reminding me of two very special people I loved, the mother who was the muse for my creativity, and the husband who encouraged me to spread my wings and fly in my endeavors.

What does it say about me that when I faced a move to a 760-square foot house in the summer of 2018, I easily parted with thousands of items; pieces of furniture, clothing, hundreds of books, home decorations small and large, but sifting through piles of paper, files, photos, and letters seemed an impossible task? At least two of the things I chose to keep, my mother’s cabinet and trunk, were with the intention of storing other things.

What does it mean that I saved every letter my mother had ever written me, the few my father did, and many I’ve received from siblings?

Until the winter of 2017, I hadn’t re-read Mom’s letters, but as I prepared to write a book chronicling the creative legacy she’d left behind, I did. In fact, I immersed myself in all things Mom, re-reading letters, her memory book, and notebooks, searching for nuggets of wisdom, like this, to share in the manuscript.

mom talents on loan from GodMuch of Mom’s words that appear in the book will be shared in her own handwriting because of what I kept.

In downsizing, I did manage to dispose of hundreds of greeting cards that had no personal message, only a signature. Because I saved others, I still have my very first “fan letter,” sent to me care of my publisher in 1996, after the release of Homeschooling From ScratchI also have the birthday card my pen friend and prayer warrior Pam Pierre sent me on the first birthday I celebrated without my mother, which also happened to be the anniversary of Mom’s death. That was the last note I received from Pam before she herself died unexpectedly.

I also chose to keep the ledger my mother utilized to keep track of her art sales. I’d flipped through those pages in 2017, marveling at her detailed notes and wondering how she kept track of the art work she’d done after the final listing of a courthouse carving in 1996. Surely an artist who’d carefully numbered her pieces, from the first wood carving at age 42 would have continued the tracking? Perhaps she’d done so elsewhere, in a notebook I didn’t have? I wrote about this in my book:

“If midlife means the mid-point of one’s lifespan, my mother hit hers at forty-one, a year before she’d picked up a hammer and chisel to create her first woodcarving. In the ensuing thirty years, Irma “Amy” Potter would produce 544 pieces of art, according to a ledger that tracked each piece. The entries are not dated, but begin with the first woodcarving in 1970 and end with the relief woodcarving that was commissioned for the Delaware County courthouse in 1996. Anything Mom had crafted before the age forty-two—the wall-hangings, pastel pictures, quilts, or homemade dolls—were not included in this tally. Neither was the body of work she continued to produce between 1996 and her death in 2010. That includes countless pillows, teddy bears, baby quilts, Christmas stockings, handmade ornaments, a painting that hangs in Breitbach’s restaurant in Balltown, Iowa, lavishly-designed walls my sister Pat commissioned Mom to paint in 2001 in the lower level of her Treasure Alley consignment store, along with numerous paintings and wood-carvings now displayed in homes of family members and strangers.

I could not begin to guess how many additional pieces of art my mother produced in those last fourteen years of her life, or why she stopped keeping the log, but suffice it to say, my mother was a prolific artist in the second half of her life.”

It was only yesterdaynine years after the death of my mother, as I searched the trunk for memorabilia to include in my next art project, I picked up the ledger again. Studying those pages of neat handwriting and record-keeping, I marveled at the low prices she charged for her work. Hours of toil on an owl carving amounted to a single ten dollar bill. Four small owls she sold to “David and Mary Kenyon” (me), less than that. I wondered again at that last notation. Why had she stopped keeping track? I flipped through the empty pages until something caught my eye; a lightly penciled notation on an otherwise empty page.

pencil notes about muralsSo, Mom had noted her mural work on the walls of my sister’s shop, though without a date. I flipped through a few more empty pages amazed to discover there were further records at the back of the ledger!

This list, unlike the beginning of the ledger, was not in chronological order. Many were numbers from the previous list, but some were newer, including a piece numbered 1040 (suggesting she’d completed at least another 500). An ad from a South Dakota studio was paper-clipped to the page. Did the Eng studio owner order the “carved Eskimo Girl” my mother noted, or did she own a “carved Eskimo Girl” by the artist? I’m fascinated by either scenario. (I later searched the Internet and discovered that Marion Eng, the co-owner, had passed away within days of my mother)

This. This is why I keep these sorts of things; the letters, a ledger, a list. Pieces of paper to some, precious treasures to me. A rosary, a pencil, a penny dated 1978. My mother wrote this. She drew with this pencil, prayed on this rosary. My husband kept this receipt for my wedding ring, he cherished this Valentine from his grandson fighting cancer. He wrote this note proclaiming his love and chose that necklace for me. Each foray into the trunk or cabinet, a warm hug. Each letter re-read, a visit with the beloved mother.

And sometimes, a surprise… a few previously unread pages, a clipping, a question unanswered. Who carved “Eskimo girl” and where is she?

If I ever find her, I’ll probably keep her too.

 

beautiful things, books, faith, stuff, things

A few of my favorite things…

I begin every day in my office, even those mornings I need to rush to get to my workplace. I sit in my recliner, my book lamp on, a cup of coffee sitting on the end table where I keep my Bible, a devotional and writing materials.

bookshelves.jpg

I can look in one direction and see my beautiful oak bookshelves filled with a few of my favorite things. Next to it, the St. Michael the Archangel wood carving I inherited from the man who bought it from my mother more than forty years ago. It sits on my grandmother’s trunk that is covered by a quilt my mother handmade for me. Each day, I gather strength from the visual reminder of God’s promise in Psalm 91:9-16
“For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone. You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet! The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.”

st michael.jpg

In the other direction, on the wall near my desk, are decorative and inspirational wall plaques, reminding me to dream and explore.

wall.jpg

I’m never sure if it’s the surroundings, the gift of silence, or the coffee that jump-starts my day. It might be the combination of all three. But it is in this space, this haven, that I do my deepest thinking and my best writing.

For the majority of my adult life, my purchases were mostly utilitarian, and nearly always second-hand. Raising a large family meant operating on a tight budget. It wasn’t until I began conducting workshops that I needed to invest in some nicer clothing for myself. It was around that same time I developed a penchant for jewelry. Not high-priced diamonds or expensive gold, mind you, but dangly earrings and long chains with meaningful pendants and charms or steam-punk style; keys, gears, feathers, butterflies. I still enjoy that style of jewelry and since Christmas, thanks to my daughter Katie, I now have a way to display it.

jewelry

After my husband died, the purchases of “stuff” got out of control. Still not of the fur, diamond and gold variety, but everywhere I went I was picking up books, stationery, jewelry, inspirational wall plaques, and clothing; anything to fill the gaping hole in my heart. Of course, it didn’t work. Nothing would fill that gaping wound.

The binge-buying was financially unhealthy, but my urge to surround myself with beauty and inspirational messages was not. Many of those items from that period of buying still bring me joy; the jewelry, the stationery, a butterfly pillow, and those inspirational plaques and pictures on my walls.

Author Alexandra Stoddard is convinced our surroundings can nourish us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

“The home is the center of your soul; it’s a total reflection of your inner life. If you have a dreary home, it means you are dark inside,” she wrote.

Possessions aren’t all bad. Our desire to surround ourselves with beautiful things is natural. God decorated our skies with stars and rainbows, peppered our hills with budding flowers, and filled our pastures with bright green blades of grass. An artsy plaque with an inspirational message on our wall or the soft glow of a lamp in the corner of the room can be soothing to the soul. My home office is full of such things, and my favorites are hand-made; my mother’s wood carvings, my daughters’ paintings and drawings, the painted brick books one daughter made, or wooden letters that spell out the word “WRITE” that another daughter crafted with the cover designs of my books. My book lamp, a handmade quilt on a trunk, and solid oak bookcases filled with books; these things make me feel as though I am surrounded by warmth and beauty.

What about you? What are a few of your favorite things?

stuff, things

Lovely Things and Thoughts

I stopped at a Goodwill store after a speaking engagement this week, and was enchanted by these plates I discovered:

Even though they were priced at $1 each, I couldn’t resist their beauty. When I got home I decided to store them in the shaker-style cabinet I’d inherited from my mother. Lo and behold, they match two of the pieces my mother had owned.

No wonder they’d appealed to me!

Another lovely thing I added to my house this week was a bench my sister was selling at her garage sale. How could I resist? I’ve always wanted a bench.

I put it in my entryway where my trunk (also inherited from my mother) had been, which necessitated moving the trunk in front of the couch. Of course, in moving it, I had to look inside, and there was the bag I used to keep all David’s “Get Well” cards after his heart attack, and the sympathy cards after his death. I spent a good hour going through them again. I couldn’t bear to look at the birthday cards he never got to see, the ones that had arrived on the day of his death, as well as the next day, his birthday.

I wonder if his family knew how much the birthday cards meant to him; he kept all of them on the kitchen table where he could see them for a few days, and especially loved the ones with a corny sense of humor. Those he held onto for a longer time, propping them up on the dresser.

Think about that the next time you think about sending a greeting card or a letter to someone you care about, and then decide to send an e-mail instead.

An e-mail is nice, but you can’t store it in a trunk to take out six months later, or prop it on a dresser.