My mother forcing me to make Christmas decorations when I was young did not ruin my life; she may have contributed to my later choices as an Antique dealer.
Okay, she didn’t exactly force me she used a more Tom Sawyer form of coercion. She made it look like fun. At the beginning of December, my mother would put up the card table and set out bowls of popcorn and cranberries, boxes of dried macaroni, Styrofoam balls, pins, beads, colored paper, scissors, crayons, Elmer’s glue, spray paint, and Scotch tape. Once she had all the supplies in order, she would invite over a friend or two, my age or hers and we all made holiday decorations. I didn’t mind these sessions, it only took sliding a few beads onto a pin and sticking them into a Styrofoam ball to win my mother’s praise. The gold spray paint we used to color the macaroni wreaths filled the room with a sweet smell and probably got us all a bit tipsy from the solvent. Stringing cranberries and popcorn, I liked the least. The popcorn broke apart when I pushed the needle in, and the cranberries stained my fingers. Twelve inches of this was all I could take and I went back to sticking pins into Styrofoam. Paper clips bent into hooks provided a means to hang the ornaments and we proudly donned the tree with our freshly fabricated creations standing back to admire the results.
I remember feeling competitive when looking at my mother’s perfect decorations. With one arm much larger than the others my cutout paper stars lurched around the tree like Quasimodo and my Styrofoam balls looked like sea urchins. Mom’s decorations achieved the perfection I imagined mine would when making them but next to hers never did. She was not, however, the sort of mom who put her arms around me and guided my hands. She seemed content to leave me on my own. This was probably a good thing. My mother’s one concession to store bought decorations since discovering that cutting tin foil into strips didn’t quite capture the effect, was tinsel but with several years of reuse, clumps of tangled tinsel sat on the tree like clumps of cold slaw. Like much of our apartment with its jars of beach glass, clusters of rounded stones and sea shells, gnarly twigs sprouting from wine bottles, and modern art reproductions cut from magazines, our makeshift tree proudly declared my artistic mother’s belief in the inherent beauty in all things and the innate creativity off all people. If I needed a reminder of how different my family was from most other families, this tree, so unlike the trees standing next to Santa in coca cola ads, did the trick.
During the holidays, we visited cousins in Lynn. These cousins never did crafts. Their tree had bubble lights, and twinkling multi-colored lights, and pointy glass balls with corrugated glass windows, and new tinsel, and clouds of white angel hair, which obscured the tree like a grease fire. Not that their artificial tree could not have caught fire, but a rotating color wheel trained on it produced a burning bush effect. One time I put my finger into the concave window of an ornament and the thin reflective glass crumbled under my touch. I turned the ball around and spent the entire evening anticipating its discovery and preparing my denials. On those holidays, while upstairs in the room of my second cousin suffering through baby talk tea parties with her dolls, downstairs the adults were smashing the life out of potatoes, squash, and turnips, drowning string beans in cream sauce, and drying out the turkey.
These cousins had a one-car garage, a concrete covered back yard, a charcoal grill, a picnic table, and a car. My mother and I lived in rented apartments and had none of these things. I didn’t feel envious of what they had but what they had felt like something I should aspire to and making our own decorations like a necessity.
The desire to make and decorate things often grips me today. Sometimes I make Christmas balls and chandelier shades with facetted beads, glass fringe, and stiff wire. In my antique lighting store, I am unable to leave anything alone and vintage crystal chandeliers get dressed up like old ladies in Sunday hats with colored fruit, French beaded flowers, and artificial pearls. Once, I removed the crystals from a chandelier, dipped them into an acid for etching glass, and reinstalled them. The satin glass crystals looked like frosty ice in winter. Currently I customize workshop lights giving them the overbuilt appearance of machinery from the dawn of the industrial age. Outfitted with gears, tractor wheels, and valve handles these humdrum little lights look as though they’ve been pumping iron. Projects such as these give me the most satisfaction, selling them even more.
What memory did I retain from those holidays spent struggling with the tricky symmetry of a five-pointed star, what patience did I learn waiting for the glue to dry on a macaroni wreath, or searching with a needle for the pathway through a kernel of popcorn. At the time, I just wanted to please my mother and win her praise, as no matter how dishevel looking the results, she always gazed approvingly at our tree with its handmade decorations. Today I still show her the things I have put my personal touch to and wait for her response.
City Lights Antique Lighting