Friday, December 14, 2012

Repost #2 . . . The Artsy Craftsy Christmas Creche

The Artsy Craftsy Christmas Creche
Originally posted 19 Dec 2010

In our house, Christmas was always home made.  It might have been partly out of necessity, but it never felt that way.  In addition to having a sweet tooth, and being a sewing whiz my mother was very artsty craftsy.  Not only did she make all of my clothes, but she made EVERYTHING for our house.  She loved magazines and used many of the ideas she saw in their pages to adapt for our home.  She never seemed comfortable being ordinary or mundane.  As an example, our living room had one wall with a painted plywood false wall about 5"-12" in front with floor to window top arched cut outs in front of the windows and sheer drapes hanging in the arches.  I am sure this idea came from a magazine.  She was a big city girl living in a small town.  Her second husband, Merle and the best stepfather a child could ever have, always went along with her ideas even as he grumbled.  Mother always had to put her own spin on things.

Across the street from our house lived Mamie Schleeter, the mother of Merle's best friend since childhood.  She was like a second mother to him, and her hobby was ceramics. Mamie was exceptionally talented and sold a fair number of her ceramic pieces. So one year Mom and Merle ordered a complete nativity set with gold trim.  Merle was very handy (a much more important trait for a husband than wealthy) and I am sure envisioned making a nice standard wood creche for the figures.  He should have known better.

One day during the late Fall, Gloria and Merle were going for a "drive".  Going for a drive was a ritual in our family, and one that I didn't always appreciate when I was young.  As an adult, my husband and I often go driving around country roads after dinner, and now I love it.  As children we used to claim that Merle knew every gravel road in our county, and we drove along them feeling like the car was on a perpetual rumble strip.  Mother was always on the lookout  for natural items that she could use in one of her hundreds of craft projects.  Driving along mother would just yell stop if she saw something she wanted and then direct Merle to retrieve what she wanted if it was in a particularly difficult spot. Mom supervised.  She (meaning Merle) always gathered items such as bittersweet, cattails, rosehips and rocks for her arrangements and projects.  However, the creche needed a very special setting.  When they arrived home that day, the trunk lid was open indicating it held something so large that it couldn't close.  Mother had discovered a stump with roots on the side of the road, and amazingly, she was able to talk Merle into wrestling it into the trunk.  What a perfect natural setting for their new nativity set!

And so it was.  She cleaned that stump and covered the top of the television with a layer of the roll out cotton snow, arranged the figures in the spaces formed by the roots, and sprayed aerosol snow over the top.  She then fixed an over-sized angel and star at the top surrounded with evergreen boughs which hid the fact that the angel was out of scale. Televisions in those days were big, boxy freestanding pieces of furniture that were the main focus of the room, so it was a perfect location. It could hold the weight of the stump.

This was our nativity setting for many years.  So many, in fact, that my younger brother thought it was a piece of driftwood, because the bark had worn off.  Really??? We lived in central Indiana and never went on vacation.  Where would we get driftwood that large?  The years have passed, and my brother is now the official keeper of the nativity set, but he has the figures in the more traditional setting imagined by Merle originally.

Personal note:  This post was completely written and ready to post when an amazing, some might say providential, event occurred.  I was re-reading the text and adding the photos, when, as I was searching for photos and cropping the new ones sent by my brother, I noticed a curious looking thumbnail.  Could it really be??  I quickly closed the select window so I could open the thumbnail in question to see it more closely.  It was, it really was . . . It was an old fuzzy photo of the original stump on our television!  I shrieked shouted, "O.. M.. G..., I can't believe it!"  My fingers quickly called my brother who was in his garage making this year's gifts.  I asked if he knew about the photo.  No, he didn't remember ever seeing it and neither did I.  This is truly a family memory restored. I love my blog.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Repost from Christmas Past . . . The Pan

With no time on my hands, and a feeling of guilt over my lack of posts, I am recycling some of my Christmas posts from past seasons.  Since many readers do not read past posts, I am hoping you will enjoy these.  Today I will share one infamous post from December 2010 about a Christmas tradition I share with my brother and a kitchen pan that once belonged to our mother.  Lisa Louise Cooke read it on her Episode 61 podcast for premium members.  

And now. . .  
"Holiday Fun for Genealogists". 
Posted here originally on 28 Nov 2010

Well, I have always known that I would write this blog post.  It has taken all of my willpower to save it for the holiday season where it rightly belongs.

Please note that the photo below is from left to right:  Gloria Kennelly (my mother), Mary McDonnell Kennelly (her grandmother), Berenice Moldt Kennelly (my grandmother).  I am including it because it is a wonderful photo, and I don't have any good Christmas photos of my mother later in her life.  Those that I could find, I can't bring myself to post for she would surely haunt me if I did.

During the holidays it is not unusual for families to laugh, reminisce, and share stories about past family times.  It usually starts "Remember when . . ." and ends with a smile and a warm family feeling in your heart.  Occasionally, accompanied by a smile or chuckle.  At our house, we usually began the litany of memories with "Remember that d*&#  pan of mother's?"  Except for sweets, our mother did not particularly enjoy cooking. While she loved new sheets and towels and had a whole room for her sewing equipment and crap craft supplies,  her pots and pans were gathered together from who knows where and never replaced.  We had knives that were dull, mismatched plates, rubber spatulas with handles that fell out, and cake pans that must have been passed down from gr-grandma.  Then there was THE PAN.  It was cast aluminum with an exterior darkened from centuries years of burnt oil, but the standout feature was the handle.  It had a wood handle with a long screw through the center.  The screw was fastened securely to the pan, but the wood handle had long ago worn larger in the middle.  This meant that the pan would swing and spin as you held the handle.  We begged our mother to throw it out every time we had to use it, and the contents would spill as the pan would sway and swing when we lifted it.  Mother was particularly fond of boiling macaroni  in this pan.  Pouring off the water was an exercise in frustration accompanied by loud swearing.  I told her that if she didn't throw it out, I would put it in the casket with her. . . . . and I tried to.  Little did I know that my brother retrieved it, sandblasted the oil off and wrapped it in Christmas paper for the following holiday.  Years have passed, and I don't remember what was in the pan that first Christmas. Since then it has been a planter, a clock, etc. Each year we pass it back and forth and talk about that D*&# pan and about our mother.

Last year it was my turn.  I never had any really inventive ideas.  Dahl, my brother, was the more creative one.  But last year was different.  He will have a hard time topping this. As I have said in an earlier post, my brother is the original genealogist in the family, but since I have joined him in this wonderful adventure, I have dragged him with me to various cemeteries in Chicago and Iowa.  I teased him about needing a "gravedigger" tee shirt since our adventure at Calvary cemetery pictured at right.  Privately, I had a brainstorm for THE PAN.  I filled it with dirt, covered the top with moss from Hobby Lobby, and painted small wood shapes to resemble tombstones.  A package of dollhouse scale flowerpots completed the look.  I decided to make him a "portable cemetery"!   It would be a representation of our past adventures searching for our ancestors.

And now to share it with you.

Click to enlarge and see detail

I included a tombstone for our g-g grandfather James Bush Allen because I was sure we would find it when we went to the cemetery - we didn't.  So I guess this is the only one he will ever have.  There is also a tombstone for g-g-g grandmother Anna Lyman, mother of James B. Allen who is buried in Canada, g-g-grandparents, Owen &; Bridget McDonnell, and our gr. grandparents Edward P. and Mary Kennelly.  Lastly, I put a headstone for Margel Kennelly and partially covered it with moss since we had dug up the original.  It was beautiful!!

My brother loved it ,and it has decorated the shelf above his computer for the past year.  It will be sad to see it go.  But, I wonder what he has in store for me??

Maybe you have a special object from a loved one who is no longer here.  I challenge you to think about the possibility of starting a similar tradition of your own. What wonderful fun to pass it around the family and laugh about times past and the family who came before us.