The Twelve Days of Christmas: My mother saved everything, or my life in crafts

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas


The last gift I gave to my mother. You may recall, if you regularly read my Daughter on Duty blog, that my mother was obsessed with writing her mother’s story. Though she had written stories on scraps of paper, in notebooks and on paper pads for decades, they were scattered throughout the house in drawers, boxes, and on shelves and countertops. Each time, she had to begin again.

In the last years of her life she started over again, this time on a tape recorder. “I thought you would help me with it, Gretchen,” she said to me once. That was news to me; and I couldn’t do it and keep my sanity. She got patient Dan, her handyman, to help with the business of recording. I recruited Jo Ann to transcribe them and told Mama I would edit them.

Jo Ann transcribed a few of the tapes—highly tedious work, particularly without benefit of modern technology—and I began the equally tedious work of editing the verbatim transcriptions. It was not chronological, though she intended it to be, as she would remember some often inconsequential bit she may or may not have already told. Then forgetting where she left off, would pick up in the wrong place. There were details I knew were inaccurate, because I have heard much of the story before—and read those bits found around the house.

I think the need to finish this project she claims she promised her mother she would do (my grandmother died in 1988 at the age of 99), was keeping her alive, both in the sense of giving her purpose and in not allowing her to leave when she very much wanted to.

Last Christmas, I decided to put the part that was transcribed into a book for her, hoping she would feel—literally holding it in her hands—that her project was being taken seriously, and that she would know I intended to help her get it done after all.

Rebecca read it to her, and she wasn’t happy with it. She said I made stuff up. Maybe I did, in the way memoirs from time before memory does, to make the narrative more interesting. I was a little shocked at her anger about it, but she moved on in the end and thanked me for doing it.

And now I am want to finish it—at least to the point she left off, I don’t think she completed what she wanted to say before her mind became too jumbled. Jo Ann brought me the rest of the tapes last month to transcribe myself, as she doesn’t have time. It’s daunting, and I have my own new epic project—now that my own memoir is approaching last steps to get into the world—telling my father’s story of growing up in a family very different from my mother’s, and then being scattered during the war years, communicated via hundreds of letters from three of the siblings that have been kept for eighty years.

Do I have enough time before my end comes? I need a tower and someone to bring meals.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas


And representing the reprise of the knitting years (scarves, fingerless mittens, baby hats, all sold at Hubbub), I made her a second infinity scarf. They fit the needs: lightweight, not scratchy, not hanging down, not bulky, covered the neck she hated, and kept her warm–or at least gave the illusion of warmth. Another favorite. Until she got hung up on wheather or not they matched her outfit. Or they got lost in her drawer.

On the Tenth Day of Christmas


More printing on fabric. My parents and things they loved through the years. Funny thing was, it turned out she had been making (with help) a full size quilt for me of me and the things I loved through the years (photos on fabric). She gave it to me maybe for my birthday or Christmas the following year. Or was it the same Christmas and I hadn’t opened it yet? I can’t remember now. I felt bad then, that maybe she felt bad when I she opened this that Christmas; that I’d stolen her brilliant idea or something. I feel bad again just looking at this photo. Monkey mind.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas


The year I made bags and sold them at North Carolina craft fairs and Hubbub. My mother bought this one and was still using it the last days of her life. “It was perfect,” she said.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas


The beginning of the fabric art years and printing photos on fabric experimentation. This gift may have been my crowning achievement. A box covered with and full of how I saw my mother, and of all she had done in her life. Why I was proud to be her daughter. It’s covered with things I found around the house on a visit home: silver thimbles for feet, pins, old jewelry, a leaf from the yard, shells. I’m pretty proud of this one.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas


The paper years: A little book with pockets holding inspirational words. Hmm. Well, they were fun to make, anyway, and she actually bought some from me to give as gifts; except she wanted to tell me what colors and words to use, and to fix what she saw as flaws. It was in keeping with her philosophy: “If I’m paying for something, shouldn’t it be like I want it?” Took the fun right out of it for me, a dabbling non-perfectionist.

On the Sixth Day of Christmas


Putting nature to work. I believe young children helped me with this gift. There were two of them; maybe I will find the other one someday, or maybe it broke. (I think this one cracked in the creating.) I took it off the wall a year or so ago.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas


The cross-stitch years, a craft I stuck with longer than any other. The note cards were meant to be used, of course, but 35 some years later the collection remains unbroken in her stuffed-full greeting card drawer. (She bought multiples each time she needed one, and seldom, it seems, used one from her drawer, even after I organized them for her.)

On the Fourth Day of Christmas


Fast forward to my wheel pottery class. Either there wasn’t much crafting between elementary school and marriage, or my mother didn’t keep anything. Or I didn’t give her anything. Or I just haven’t dug deeply enough into the backs of cupboards and to the bottom of boxes. I took some painting classes from a neighbor, but the cupboards are full only of my older sister’s flat art. Clearly mine didn’t measure up.

On the Third Day of Christmas


She wore the earrings made in third grade every Christmas until, apparently, one broke. They are still in her jewelry box.

The paperweight, made in fourth grade, with its crumbled pink foam backing, still holds paperclips in the kitchen desk drawer. Finding it empty three years ago, Mama bought a box of paperclips (with her caregiver’s help), not asking me if there were more somewhere. Uh, yeah. In the back of the same drawer. In the desk in the study. In the desk downstairs. In the cabinet downstairs.

On the Second Day of Christmas


Popsicle stick art. I think this was made in Girl Scouts, or maybe fourth grade with an arts and crafts enthusiast teacher. The center elastic is broken now, but it still lives in the dining room buffet.

On the First Day of Christmas


Every child made some version of this in preschool or kindergarten back in the day. I have two of them. This one is pretty classy with its glaze. The other one is simple unfinished plaster of Paris. This one hung in my mother’s bedroom until I took it down to paint the wall. I put it back up. Some things are just classics.

4 thoughts on “The Twelve Days of Christmas: My mother saved everything, or my life in crafts

  1. Can you work any of your grandmother’s story in with the memoir about your parents? For background on your mother, contrast what made your parents different from one another? This is great that you have so much material. Think of it as clay, only grab a handful and then mold it into something, a piece of art. Save more globs of words for another project, another creation.


    1. That’s an interesting suggestion. I will definitely ponder it as I begin molding. It is definitely an embarrassment of riches. I love thinking of it as clay! All three stories (father’s family, mother’s family, the war letters), perhaps rolled out separately and then woven together into a pottery basket holding story. Thank you! And thank you for being a loyal follower of my words and photos. Gretchen

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Have so loved these daily stories. Any chance you’ll revisit your Memory Monday posts ( I think that’s what they were called) ? The artifacts and stories are such a wonderful walk back. I find myself more and more sentimental with every year. I’m a sucker for sweet stories and remote towers. 🙃


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s