Family Ties: Someone’s Favorite

I’ve been decorating my home for Christmas and I keep finding special things that remind me of my Aunt Polly: an engraved ornament, my blue porcelain angels, woodland birds. On Saturday evenings when my husband and I watch movies, I work on my crewel embroidery pillow and remember how she taught me the stitches when I was a senior in high school. Later she gave me the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Needlework and wrote in her artful script, “To Connie Riddle with lots, and lots of Love.”

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Polly in our farmhouse kitchen around 1966

While Polly never told me I was her favorite, as every child hopes they are, I always felt a connection to her because she ‘got me’ and I ‘got her.’ Her attention toward me made me feel special– a great thing when you’re growing up and going through the ups-and-downs of figuring out who you are. How reinforcing to feel that you have someone’s favor.

When I was a girl, Polly told me about visiting the Teton Mountains in Wyoming. I felt like I was there when she described the snow-capped mountains and the open space. I’d seen those vistas in Westerns and imagined myself as one of those cowgirls riding a horse. Years later, as a ‘girl’ of  fifty-six, I took my solo journey to Wyoming chasing that dream that had started with Polly. I rode a huge horse named Tequila on a trail ride in the Grand Teton National Park. How I felt Polly’s spirit with me in that place.

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Remembering Polly’s descripton of the Tetons and feeling her presence

My memories of Polly are strong, especially during the Christmas season. Last year, I was feeling the same way and wrote a post, Polly’s Gift. I’d love for you to read it and get to know more about her.  I’ll end this post early in hopes that you’ll read on about Polly and her painting that hangs on the wall in my kitchen every December.

Polly’s Gift

 

How About You?

Is there a family member or another person who has treated you as if you’re a favorite?

What were things they did that communicated that you had a special bond?

How did their favor on you impact your life?

Do you have that type of relationship with a  niece or nephew or some other person?

 

Your Favorite Things

I spotted the Santa holding the globe on an after- Christmas sale table.  That’s mine, I thought and wasn’t sure why I was so attracted to it.  But then looking around my house, I was reminded of the globes and maps I’d collected, drawn to the landforms of the earth and the blues of the oceans.  I remembered the first globe I was attracted to– the one in the wooden stand in Miss Harrington’s fourth grade.

It was located near the large casement window in our classroom in the two-story brick building of Jonesboro School — the same one where my father had graduated.  I remember how I loved her geography class where we learned about faraway places.

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Now I consider how as an adult I started taking solo journeys, pilgrimages to places that my heart is drawn to.  At first, I thought it was surprising how I’d found this path during that first trip to Sedona.  But now I feel there were clues in my childhood that I’d forgotten as an adult, especially once life became so busy when I entered my profession and then had a family.  My focus shifted to my sons’ favorite things, trying to provide them with what they were uniquely drawn to.

Sometimes we lose ourselves along the way, that child within us pushed down under the weight of adulthood.  During the holiday season, I think we have glimpses back to what we loved them.  Sometimes we can get clues from childhood photos.  When I found an old black and white of me, along with my two sisters and kids from the neighborhood, I realized there were three things that made me happy in that picture: being outside, my dog beside me, and my bike that was my pretend horse.

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Me at six years old to the right of our dog.

Years later, when I took my first intentional journey to Jekyll Island, Georgia, I realized I’d been drawn there because of the extensive bike trails.  Hopping on that bike to explore the island made me feel like I was the same age as that girl in the picture, riding the sandy roads of our farm.  It didn’t matter that at Jekyll Island I was fifty.  When you do the activities you love you can be transported to any age.

Because things we love can ground us, it’s important to have them all around. I think of how these can appeal to our five senses.  When we’re sick, we want that cozy blanket to swaddle us, the feel of the cloth settling our nervous system.  I have a tan-colored corduroy coat that immediately calms me.  Touching it reminds me of favorite clothing from childhood.  I’ll probably wear that coat until it’s threadbare and my family forces me to get rid of it.

The smell of lavender reminds me of the gentle care of my lymphedema massage therapist, how she uses lavender lotion, a healing balm.  When I’m having a tough day, slowing down and inhaling the scent of lavender calms me.

Tasting cinnamon feels like a special treat.  I put it on cereal, coffee, yogurt, and everything that I can.  It doesn’t even have to be paired with brown sugar to be satisfying.

Listening to certain songs immediately improves my mood, or makes me want to get up and dance, or elevates me to a state of praise and thanksgiving.  I also find that listening to silence anchors me in the present, mindful of what is before me.

I remember now how my eyes first encountered the Santa before I picked him up and made him mine.  My prayer for you as we prepare to enter the new year is that you will surround yourself with your favorite things, and take the time to do your favorite activities in 2018.  I hope you will make all those things yours.

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Jekyll Island bike path

How about you?

What are your favorite things?

Is your home filled with those things that are special to you?

What activities did you love as a child?  Are you doing them now?  If not, how could you start?

 

 

 

 

 

Polly’s Gift

I first saw the painting in December of 1992.  My Aunt Polly invited me to come to her house and pick out presents for my sons for Christmas.  She loved all her great-nephews and nieces and had purchased toys, books, and candies to give the seven of them.  I was surprised to see paintings lined up on her mantle and hearth– flowers, southwestern landscapes, and one that stood out; Joseph leading Mary through the dark night to Bethlehem.

“You painted these?” I asked, remembering her stories of taking art classes.  “I love the way you illuminated Mary’s face.”

She seemed surprised at how I was drawn to the painting.  Polly had always been a perfectionist and had difficulty receiving my complement.

“I painted it for Mama’s Christmas present in 1954,” she told me.  “But she died before Christmas and I never got to give her my gift.”  Something I didn’t know, a new discovery of another way that Polly and I were alike.

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painted December 1954 by Polly Rosser

Polly and her younger sister, Eula, had moved to Denver in 1950 where Polly took art classes at the University of Colorado and Eula worked as a nurse in a children’s hospital.  My Aunt Polly, my Daddy’s older sister, had mostly been known to me through letters and cards.

But then she moved back East in the fall of 1965, when I was in fifth grade, and lived with us.  I saw ways that I was like her– unlike how I felt toward most of my family.  Polly was artistic and a dreamer, impractical by the Rosser family standards.  She relished setting a beautiful table, enjoying nice dishes and serving pieces versus the everyday plates and bowls we normally used.

Before Christmas, I’d tromp with her through the woods to gather cedar, holly, pine, and magnolia to decorate our home.  She used some of the evergreens to create small woodland scenes on pieces of plywood, tucking in ceramic rabbits and birds and spraying snow on her creation to give the feel of a winter wonderland.

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Eula and Polly (left to right)

She loved to read and I admired the stack of books beside her bed, knowing that she always read before falling asleep.  She gave me books of poetry and prayers and wrote memorable comments in my cards.  Polly was considered ‘too sensitive’ by some, and again, I could see that same quality in me.

Polly died the May after I first saw her paintings that Christmas.  Mama remembered how I’d loved the one of Mary and Joseph and made sure it was earmarked for me.  Now, when I look at it, I think of the sadness that can be part of Christmas, longing for those who are no longer present.  My Daddy died of a heart attack on December 13th when I was twenty-two.  I remember how my heart ached and how I always associated his death and Christmas.  I hadn’t poured myself into making Daddy a present, but I’d bought him a pair of tan-colored corduroy pants that were already wrapped and under the tree.

While I was the unintended recipient of Polly’s gift, it has been a present that I’ve been blessed with every holiday season as it hangs on my wall.  I feel connected to the intended receiver, my Grandma Rosser who died that Christmas before I was born in March.  It reminds me of Aunt Polly’s bravery in moving across the country and studying art– not something she’d been prepared for in her farm family.  When I tromp through the woods to gather greenery for my home, it’s as if she’s beside me, anticipating the joy of making our home festive, celebrating that special family time of year.

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How about you?

How do you remember special family and friends who are no longer with you during the holidays?

Are there activities in which you feel they’re present, participating in spirit?

 

 

 

Letter to Santa

I look at the picture of Daddy from 1964 when he was caught in the act of Christmas shopping by the photographer from our hometown paper.  He must have been amused at my father managing his cigar above the Rose’s Dime Store box and shopping basket.  When an acquaintance saw the picture and heard my story, he asked me to submit it as a Letter to Santa for his doll magazine.  At fifty-six I wrote my letter.

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Mine was more of a “Thank You” note sent on December 28th so I could tell the whole story.  I would have been in fourth grade.  I started out with acknowledging that I liked my new Barbie with the ponytail and my Barbie Dream House.  I commented, “I’m so glad I finally have a real Barbie — since my parents gave me a fake one for my birthday.”  That memory brought up how hard it was to be a child at Christmas once you knew about the real Santa.  I wanted to be truly happy, not feel any disappointment because I didn’t want to hurt Mama and Daddy.  I know now that when they gave me a fake Barbie it was either because they didn’t understand that it made any difference or they couldn’t afford the more expensive doll.

I remember we were excited that Daddy’s picture was on the Saturday Feature page the week of Christmas.  When I’d looked at it more closely, I realized that Rose’s box had to be my Barbie Dream House.  My younger sister, Peggy, who was five, nor my older sister, Harriet, who was twelve, had asked for anything that size.  I was excited to know that it would definitely be there Christmas morning, but soon afterward, I was disappointed that my surprise had been spoiled.  I knew that even though Daddy grinned for the photographer, he would have been mad underneath because he felt my surprise had been spoiled, too.

That wasn’t the only year I felt that tension– wanting to know versus wanting to be surprised.  My older sister discovered that our parents hid things in one of our barns.  When they were gone, she took me to see our stereo that was covered by a quilt.  Next to it was an empty barrel with a box of Children’s Classics books that we received each year.  It was fun for a while to have that discovery with my sister, to share a secret, but then there was the inevitable letdown Christmas morning when you knew part of your gifts.

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Rosser Family 1962

 

At the end of my Santa letter, I addressed the issue of knowing ahead of time that I was getting the Barbie Dream House.  I said, “But that’s okay, Santa, because I didn’t have to stay awake all night Christmas Eve and wonder if my Dream House would be under the tree.  Instead, I could dream about playing with my Barbie in her perfectly pink bedroom and going back to Miss Harrington’s fourth grade and telling them all about it.”

As an adult writing the letter, I’d seen the benefit of reducing my childhood tension.  While I loved the mystery of Christmas, there was anxiety with the unknown, and later with the known– the way you could disappoint your parents who’d worked so hard to give you their best.  I guess that mix of excitement and anxiety was very real for me as I, along with my older sister, remember that the only time I ever had nosebleeds was on Christmas mornings!

Now, as a parent, I know that my parents would have understood those feelings I had back then.  They would have realized that the Christmas season is filled with a range of emotions, and they would have seen that as just part of life.

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How about you?
What memories do you have of your childhood Christmas?
How do you view your disappointments from an adult perspective?
What new understandings help you to reframe those experiences?

Journeys to the Past

At this time of year, I feel a yearning to return to childhood.  I long to smell the cedar tree decorated with a string of large multi-colored lights and icicles; to taste the cherries in my aunt’s paper-thin cookies; to feel the rush of being in the basement of Rose’s Dime Store looking at my hoped-for toys.  The house in the picture reminds me of our two-story farmhouse and my view from my upstairs bedroom window.  The small sleigh transports me back to my journey to Vermont.

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When I took that trip a couple of summers ago,  I visited Shelburne Museum in the western part of the state.  I was fascinated by their display of sleighs.  Growing up in the South, and not a family who skied or took cold weather vacations, I’d never ridden in a sleigh.  Like the iconic images of Santa and his reindeer, as a child, I thought Currier and Ives winter scenes were like fairytales.  People didn’t ride in sleighs because you never had that much snow — at least not in central North Carolina.

Now, what strikes me about the sleigh in the picture, is that it’s not like Santa and his reindeer, magically ascending into the sky.  Instead, this one looks like an everyday sleigh that would have actually been used to move quickly through the snow.

In the museum, there were all kinds– those that were for formal events and those like workhorses.  The one that captured my attention was a school bus sleigh used to transport children from rural areas of Vermont in the late 1800s.  I could imagine it traveling down the narrow lanes I’d seen on my drive from White River Junction.  Those children were like me, riding home on a school bus.  How beautiful the countryside would be with a blanket of white, that makes the daytime stark and the nighttime mysterious.

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Like other journeys, I wished I could experience Vermont in seasons besides summer.  That would give me a fuller picture of what life was like in that part of the country.  It reminded me how my eyes had been opened on a journey to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.  There I saw a display of a horse-drawn mail carriage.  Inside, I was surprised to find a small pot-bellied stove.  My Granddaddy Smith had been a rural mail carrier in North Carolina in the early 1900s.  He would have needed that warmth in the frigid January days in remote areas of Chatham County.

This discovery from the past seemed to provide a small connection with my grandfather, who died before I was born.  Now I have another way to imagine him that is a gift from one of the places on my journeys.

Both my childhood Christmas memories and discoveries about the past made on my journeys, make me want to return to those times and places.  That’s a universal sadness we all feel.  I guess the best we can do is to travel there in our mind’s eye, savor that memory, and move forward to new places and moments of discovery.

How about you?

When are the times that you feel a yearning to go back?

What do you do with those feelings?