My Mother’s Christmas Tree

It is at this time of year, when it’s time to haul out the decorations, that my  heart is flooded with so many memories.  This little Christmas tree was made by my mother many years ago when I was in highschool.  The tree structure itself is a large pine cone,  the decorations consist of other plant materials like acorns and seed pods of every description.  She also included shells from the shores of Long Island Sound where we lived at that time.  There are tiny birds that she fashioned from a mix of paper and glue and then painted.  It is one of those treasures I have kept to remind me of the legacy that she and my father left for me, my brothers and those who follow.

Both of my parents were artists, though my mother had no formal training and never graduated from highschool.  She was always creating things either in the garden, the kitchen or in the dining room where her craft and art supplies often were piled on the table.  She was a quilter and spent her last years making collages from a variety of papers and odds and ends that she gathered.

My father was an architect and master cabinetmaker/builder.  We have several pieces of furniture that he made, including a lovely very contemporary looking piece that he crafted as a young man and was said to have been exhibited at the World’s Fair in New York in 1939. Both he and my mother are the source of the artistic gifts that my brothers and I have inherited.

My brother Zed,  who lives in Vermont, has incredible writing skills, though I don’t think he really believes it.  His head is always filled with brilliant ideas and little inventions made from an assortment of used objects he finds hither and yon.  He’s now learning again to play the accordion which he loved to play as a small boy.

Our youngest brother Reid, was a fabulous artist, especially with pen and ink, as well as a master carpenter who could build just about anything.  He created unique bird cages from twisted tree branches and many other pieces often humorous, always breath-taking.  As a musician he was known for his raspy voice, his bluesy guitar style,  his expressive craggy face and twinkling blue eyes.  He had a deep connection to the natural world and harvested wild mushrooms from the woods of New Hampshire, selling them to restaurants and retailers in New England.  We lost him to cancer and its complications this past June.

I have always been interested in the visual arts and writing.  At the moment I am really taken up with my writing, but intend to get back to my painting as well.  Back in my earlier years, as a hippie :), I was a weaver, spinner and natural dyer using wool and mohair from the backs of my own sheep and Angora goats.  I’ve worked in fine art photography and have exhibited that work across the country.  I’m not sure I have any musical gifts.  I hated piano lessons as a kid but have always loved to sing.  I recall that when I was in eighth grade, I wanted to be a singer, but that passed with my other childhood fantasies of being a circus trapeze artist and an olympic ice skater.

My husband, a very warm-hearted man, is also an artist.  He is an actor, director and a writer.  He plays the tin whistle, guitar and loves to sing.  As a teacher, he’s taught highschool and college level students and will be teaching a class in Script Analysis, during the coming spring semester at UVA.  He has written several plays and musicals that have been produced in several area theatrical venues.

Our children, both adults and long gone from home, are also artists.  Lisa is working as a life/creativity coach in North Carolina.  Her artwork includes paintings on wood using pyrography, a wood burning technique.  You can occasionally see some her work on her blog at Sacred Circle Creative Life listed on my blog roll.  She is also a writer and a musician.  When she was 5 years old she taught herself to play the piano and for years refused the lessons we offered to pay for. When we finally talked her into it, she became very bored.  She moved on to the guitar and became a singer/songwriter in her twenties.

Mark is a second grade teacher at a nearby elementary school and also a musician. I don’t know exactly how many instruments he plays now, but it’s a handful, including the banjo, guitar and mandolin.  He started in highschool playing classical music on alto sax, which lead me to fall head over heels with that instrument especially when played by the great jazz giants.  He writes some awesome poetry and he can widen some eyes as a stage magician.

Both of my grandkids are continuing the artistic line.  Noah, age 7, is very interested in dance while Zoe, age 10, wants to be a writer.  They are very fortunate to attend a charter school that is dedicated to the arts.

These are the things I contemplate now as I sit and look at this little Christmas ornament.  I often yearn to revisit those early Christmas mornings, when my brothers and I would wake up before the sun to see if Santa had returned after a year filled with our mischief.  He always did, no matter how bad we had been.  My parent’s faces were alway aglow with excitement, as most parents would be, when their children get pulled into the magic of Christmas and its various meanings.

I think that it was after I discovered who Santa really was and my parent’s lives started getting rough around the edges, that I began to lose interest and started dreading the arrival of the holidays.  But the spirit was revived when Bill and I had our own kids, and now that we have grandchildren, the magic stays alive despite the commercialism of the season, when we can be with them for the holidays, as we will this year.

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5 Responses to My Mother’s Christmas Tree

  1. Patricia says:

    thank you for your family story and your vein of creativity and art throughout your life and family. beautiful

  2. loria2 says:

    Lovely tree. Wonderful thoughts.
    No matter where we live, there’s always a story to remind us of home and family.

  3. Sharon says:

    Sweet diversion from my day of getting things together for Goodwill, including some of my mother’s Christmas decorations. It is bitter sweet to let go of some of her things because they meant so much to her. As I pack up each one, I imagine the delight of the new family who will enjoy the whimsy that my mother loved and the decorations will take on new stories and meanings in their lives.
    What a wonderful sharing about your family and the lineage of creativity.
    I am so lucky you are my friend.

  4. I don’t know why or how it is, but I don’t remember that tree…. it’s precious. 🙂 How very special. And we have a tree made by none other than jzrart in our living room, of shiny beads and little tiny lights…. it will surely be handed down in the same way. xoxo!

  5. patti stark says:

    Thank you, Joan, for another wonderful story. How well you put it all into words; the tree is so sweet, and I know the one that Lisa has, made by you, is just as precious. Good wishes to you and Bill. Love, Patti

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