when my children were tots, we’d bundle them up and drive around looking at the christmas lights, refining our aesthetic senses, you know, each of us awarding our own best display award that grew more competitive every year under our increasingly trained and discerning eyes. just when i’d definitively declare that i preferred the white lights over the colored lights, we’d come upon a house that was obviously festooned by someone with a knack for design and a love for color. we all panted at the sight of trees (not christmas trees but plain ole’ yard trees) decked out in strands of white lights – initially because even with the gentlest breeze, they look like they’re twinkling and because they were ordinary yard trees pulled into the holiday celebration and what’s not to love about that), but it didn’t take all that long for us to pity the trees given a single, solitary strand of lights, poorly and thoughtlessly placed, preferring the trees lavished in white lights – so many it looked like they were an organic part of the tree, like they were well-lit lichen. (we developed a new degree of respect for the more miserly, haphazardly lit trees though, when we began to imagine them being dressed by a well-meaning but blind mother.)
when the children got too old for such things, andy and i weren’t nearly ready to bring this tradition to a close, so we bundled up my 90-something great aunts, put them in the backseat, and drove them around to look at christmas lights. one year, as we passed through the center of this town in south north central georgia (i’ll wait while you figure that out) (that’ll take too long, so a hint: it’s my clever way of saying “landlocked”) on the way to deliver them home, aunt lucy looked out the window at fayetteville’s main street awashed in well-lit snowflakes and said, “Irene, don’t the people who live on the water have the purtiest view?”
we had one or two trees in our own yard that we festooned with white lights annually, andy and i, and with the repeated effort, we learned how to apply them so that they didn’t look like what it were: trees dressed by a well-meaning but blind mother. as we struggled with ladders and branches and never enough lights, i remembered the year daddy outlined the roof of our house in blue lights. (using a single color instead of every hue in the crayon box simply wasn’t done in those days.) (mother was always cutting edge when it came to design.) daddy put those lights up and didn’t take them back down for something like 949 days.
an aside: that particular story remembered at that particular moment in that particular context is when i learned about what my friend jane cunningham calls reframing – a most helpful tool when dealing with family memories, if you catch my drift.
my christmas decorations this year include the red candle that kicked off this post (a free gift with purchase at a local antique store.) (using my highly trained and discerning eye, i chose the one that hadn’t been burned yet.) (the buckeyes were free, too.) (at lest i think they were.) and these two adorables created by my friend tom smith. i LOVE them, don’t you? there’s such a playful spirit about them. they’re just downright fun. the small santa with the black eye and the blue beard (reference to folktales or temperature, tom?) and the larger santa hobbled together from an assortment of tender scraps and bits. (just imagine this larger santa at the office christmas party. he’s probably the guy hanging out by the copy machine the entire time.) it’s the definition of art for me: taking something out of its intended use and giving it fresh life in a new context. now that i think about it, being friends with tom is like having christmas every day. he’s a treasured friend who challenges me with his thoughtful, well-placed questions that are always asked (or at least received) as gentle nudges and window openings (often windows that have long since been painted shut); delights me with our conversations (which often come together like his artwork – a gregarious pulling together of all sorts of odd things that initially seem unrelated); and encourages me with his keen insightfulness (that always makes me feel like he finds me intelligent and capable and maybe like he sees more in me than i present). (if you find yourself wondering if his mother was also a formidable teacher, you’d be right.)
you know, now that i think about it, what i’m really doing is decorating my studio with self portraits of and by tom. no lights required.