This was Mum’s 87th Birthday in July last year. We had a tea party, balloons and cake and sparkling wine. This picture is Mum with her four precious grandsons, the light of her life. Their hands reaching out to her and hers holding on just say ‘Love”. Mum died peacefully two weeks later.
It is a grey old day today. Fog and mist all day and that autumnal dampness that gets under your skin. I took the dog for a walk wearing my winter coat, only its second outing this season. funny to think that this time last year the UK was in the middle of ‘The Big Freeze’ and we were slipping and sliding our way around whilst snow and hoar frosts made the landscape into Narnia under the Snow Queen.
As I get older I appreciate the seasons more. I don’t dread winter any more for its dark nights and mornings. I like the festivals that the seasons bring for the celebrations of light. I like putting on my winter coat and feeling ready for any weather. Watching the leaves dropping from the trees reminds me that December is almost here with family Christmas and celebrations. And then the year turns and we wait for the light to egin to return.
Today I was looking through photos from October when the Missus and I had an escape to Rhodes. Winter is a good time to get out those photos and finally do something with them. I have a project in mind with old family photos to make a scrapbbok for future generations. So many old photos. And then all the images stored on computer, ones I keep meaning to make into albums or frame and put on the walls. So many winter evenings and weekends that could occupy.
This afternoon I am cooking a shepherds pie for dinner with the family. Pottering in the kitchen and creating comfort food, looking forward to seeing everyone together at the table. looking at pohotos, reading my book, catching up on emails. I am very grateful.
The Cochiti Pueblo are located in north central New Mexico near the city of Albuquerque. One of the more famous Cochiti artists is Helen Cordero. She was born in 1915 in New Mexico. In the late 1950s, she and her cousin, an accomplished potter, began making pottery as an alternative to leather and beadwork. Cordero was never satisfied with her bowls and pitchers, but then her cousin suggested that she try figures instead. In Cordero’s words, it was “like a flower blooming.” Countless tiny birds and animals and eventually, people came to life. Helen Cordero, of Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, created her first storyteller figure when she was 49 years old. She modeled it after her grandfather who told stories about their Native American culture. One of the traditional figurine forms was a seated female figure holding a child, known as the Singing Mother. When Cordero tried her hand at this form, she “kept seeing my grandfather [Santiago Quintana]. That one, he was a really good storyteller, and there was always lots of us grandchildren around him.” When she shaped the first portrait of her paternal grandfather, she used the traditional design but made the figure male and placed more than a realistic number of children on him. She called him Storyteller. Between five and thirty figures cling to her sculptures. Following the tradition begun by Helen Cordero, many other artists in Cochiti Pueblo began to create storyteller figures and developed their own styles. Seferina Ortiz created drummers and animals. Other artists created cowboy or acrobatic figures. The Cochiti Pueblo Indians did not record their stories as we do but passed them orally to their children and grandchildren. Many of the storyteller figures are created with their mouth open and eyes closed as the Native Americans will sing or chant their stories aloud. Native Americans tell stories about creation, how certain plants and animals came to be and stories of legends, history, ceremonies or rituals. Many stories and dances or rituals are ways to honor the earth and nature’s way. Other stories tell about family, love, friendship, hunting, and so on. Some songs are performed to aid the deceased in his journey to the next world. There are reputed to be over 500 songs just for this purpose. Helen Cordero was the first Native American to create storytellers and has sold many of her sculptures. Helen Cordero’s storytellers have been exhibited in museums in Canada and the United States and have won many awards including the Governor’s award in 1982.
This is a wonderful site that teaches you how to make one for yourself New Mexico Storyteller sculptures
Some years ago whilst in Albuquerque I bought three small storytellers. I gave one to Mum and Dad and it was always on their fireplace. Now I have the three on my desk at work. They remind me every day of how important stories are. The life story we create, the ones we tell our children, grandchildren and friends. The way in which we experience the world is made up of the stories we believe about ourselves and other people.
today I was looking at my little storytellers all over again. I had been talking to someone about Mum and her death. I realised it was like giving birth. The story we tell needs telling, sometimes over and over until somehow we make sense of it and understand it. We tell the story in our families and in our heads. If we are lucky we have people who will share the story with us or just let us tell it how we see it without trying to alter it or make it better or make it theirs. When I read again about the storytellers I heard about the songs that are sung to help the dead person go on their journey and I thought of how I sang to her “The Skye Boat Song” when I sat with her when she had gone. And the songs we sing whether hymns or not that mean something. These rituals are so important.
I look at the storytellers I have and see how they are all the grandparents, the people who pass on the traditions. Is that me now?
The giant panda is the rarest member of the bear family and among the world’s most threatened animals.
Location: Southwest China – to the east of the Tibetan plateau
Habitat: Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests
Wild population: Less than 1,600 mature in the wild
Mum and Dad took on a whole new project when they retired in the 70’s. It combined Mums love of education, creativity and children with dads passion for engineering, DIY and travel. They became travelling puppeteers and called themselves the Puppet People. Their mission was to share ideas about saving the planet and conservation with young people all over the world. Over the years they made many friends and travelled to far off places from Russia to Assisi, the school next door to the Highlands of Scotland.
I have to say it sort of drove me mad at the time! Luckily by this point I had left home and was living my own life nevertheless turning up to shows periodically became a strange sort of family torture much like the slide shows of earlier childhood!
In clearing Mums house we have sorted boxes and boxes of puppet related ‘stuff’. Some, including many puppets,has gone to the museum in Glasgow run by one of their closest friends John Blundall ( the maker of Parker from Thunderbirds!) Take a look at this here I have a pile of puppetry books put aside for a friend who is just starting out with his own puppetry / performance career and some the boys have kept as memories.
This week Mum has been up and down, sometimes clear sometimes not. We were chatting about my bracelet that she and Mrs T got me for my birthday. It is a Lovelinks one where you can attach charms and glass beads and I love it. I wanted to get something from Mum as a sort of special Mum reminder. Daft I know. Its not like I really need that but it had sort of got into my head and I loved the idea. So we talked about the different beads and I mentioned one I liked was the panda and baby one. I said it reminded me of the WWf and she got it straight away, “O that’s about who we were” she said. I like another one too with “mum” on one side and “I love you” on the other it goes both ways. Anyway my panda arrived yesterday and is on my bracelet. it will always mean something special that we both knew what it was about.
Pink satin tea cosy. Made by my Great Aunt Evaline in the 1940s and which won her 1st prize in the Eisteddfod.
My aunt lived with her best friend, my ‘aunty’ Elsie in a big old house on the Welsh Island of Anglesey.
I used to love to visit them, it always felt slightly exotic and their lifestyle was so different to my suburban 60’s childhood. I remember how we used to have to stop on the way there to buy Craven A cigarettes for Aunty Elsie and how she would throw on a fur coat and wellys over an old frock and stride off down the beach smoking and chatting and seeming so sophisticated. My real Aunty was a much less vibrant character, stocky and solid to Elsies elfin features and slim quickness. Evaline would come to stay with us, getting the bus all the way. After a four hour journey she would descend laden with parcels, suitcase and wearing her slippers.
I loved them both. My old fashioned lovely aunties.
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Going through Mum and Dads belongings is a mixture of treasure trove, Cash in the Attic and a lesson in the joys od minimalism. I am tending more and more towards the latter. Two thoughts return again and again; that my boys should not have to go through this endless sifting and sorting and weight of responsibility and that we never really own anything, just pass it on to another generation. The latter remark was made by the nice man from the auctioneer’s. I thought it was pretty profound, and realised that a lifetime of presiding over auctions of other people’s belongings probably makes you into a philosopher.
I am keeping as little as possible. This has been a process over many months so there has been time for me to learn detachment from belongings or from feeling I ‘should’ keep things. So many things hold memories, but really the memories are not in the things. Photos are special. Sadly many of the really old ones have no labels so I am lost as to who these babies and stiff posing groups might be.
Does anyone else remember the era of slides? From the 60’s to the 80’s Mum took hundreds of pictures onto slides. Each holiday was followed by an excruciating evening ‘slide-show’ with friends. Nibbles like Ritz crackers with cream cheese were served as Dad took us through each slide with anecdotes and explanations. Usually these evenings were with best friends Mary and John and their son Iain and I would grimace and shuffle until allowed to escape to play table tennis. Monopoly or to watch TV. This week I have weeded out boxes by the dozen to try to save the gems but not hang on to every scenic view.
I found these two gems in a box with some other leather cases to match. One is a writing case with a special place for telegrams ( a forgotten missive in the days of email, fax and mobile phones). The other is the most beautiful sewing kit. Green leather case with a soft velvet lining with coloured silks still inside next to the pristine needles. Tiny tools with mother-of-pearl handles. I am keeping Mum’s writing desk, given to her on her 21st birthday in 1945 by my Granda. I think these will live in there to remind me of a time when writing was with pen and ink and sewing was an art all ladies learnt. I wont be that lady but I will use the desk and write.
Now we aren’t a debutante type of family. And I haven’t heard too many stories of my ‘greats’ attending evening balls. But at the bottom of a cupboard in the back bedroom I found two pairs of unworn, as new white kid ladies gloves. They are so soft you just want to sit and stroke them. The silk scarf conjures images of a dashing pair in the 1920’s or maybe even earlier. He, with his scarf tossed nonchalantly around his neck. His black tie and tails, starched and pressed white dress shirts and gold cufflinks. She in a long white dress, a corsage on her breast and a little black fur wrap in the days before fur was bad. The evening bag would glitter with sewn on sequins and imitation pearls and the white gloves with their distinctive pattern would complete her elegance. Who would not admire this pair? She links his arm as they step down from their cab and sway into the ballroom, smiling and greeting friends, then cutting a dash on the dance-floor.
And yet somehow those gloves were never worn. What story does that tell? A broken romance? A lover lost in the War? Somehow the gloves and those scarves were treasured and taken care of through the generations. They were special to someone. Maybe now they have found the light of day again they will be worn by a bride, loved by a retro teen or form a costume for the theatre. And they have fed my imagination and given us a story if only for a moment
Three full days sorting and sifting and clearing at Mums old house. I may never want to see another bin bag or go through another box. It makes me long for minimalism.
You know that old chestnut, what would you take if your house was burning (assuming everyone is safe). I don’t think they would ever have been able to say! That’s what happens if you just keep everything!
Today I had a book dealer round to look at their shelves and shelves of books. He dismissed them all as ‘charity shop’ and offered twenty quid for the lot. I turned it down. I’m making a bet I can make more than that off eBay or amazon. And the charity shops will still benefit too.
In a box at the bottom of the wardrobe in the spare room were a collection of very Old christening gowns. Hand sewn with delicate lace or embroidery, they are so poignant in their tiny symbolism. The treasured memories of each of those darling babies long grown old and passed on.
Tomorrow they come to take most of the furniture and packed up treasures away. We have kept those that mean most to us all. The boys have chosen things to remember thirty grandparents by. I have boxes of photos to collate on winter evenings. I will out together some scrapbooks and frame some for the walls.
The rest goes to auction. I don’t think I will be there. It’s not Antiques Roadshow or Cash in the Attic, this was their life.
And when it’s all done I will be glad. And we can concentrate on the living, mum and all.
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We saw this film today. Thousand of people from all over the world sent in video clips of their lives on one day, July 24th 2010. This film is the edited collection. People were asked a few questions which they could answer on the video, like “Who do you love?”, and “What do you fear”.
It made me think about how we notice and mark the passage of time. Diaries and anniversaries, birthdays and celebrations. Each passing year is noted. I remember a similar collection in the 1980’s when 2 photographic books were produced, one in Britain and the other in the Irish Republic for a cancer charity. People sent in photos of their day. From birth to death in one day with all the events in between.
And I thought about blogging. On just this site, every day people write something about their day or the thoughts that are in their head. We share photos, memories and emotions, tears and laughter. Imagine a book of One day in the Life of a Blog.Most days I read through at least some of the ‘Post a Day’ blogs here. The variety fascinated me, the minutiae of everyday life.
Famous diarists and ordinary folk keeping a record of their life. Collections of correspondence from the days of letters. A collection of love letters between Mum and dad kept in a box and tied up with ribbon. Children’s drawings packed away in the bottom of a drawer. A memory box for each of my children, their baby wristbands, 1st birthday cards, swimming certificates and school photos things I put together in case I died before they grew up, in that paranoid worst case scenario mummy thinking. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a record of a day a year? I loved a series called ‘7 up’ produced by ITV of children born in 1964. Filmed every seven years well into adulthood, the series recorded not just the children’s lives but changing cultures, politics and expectations. A sociological study with the poignancy of an innocence that grew up alongside the camera. See this : 7 Up
Mum seemed different today. A little more confused and she kept saying “I feel lost”. As always she was happy to see us and liked the idea of going out. Getting her to walk and get in and out of the car was a little harder. Sometimes its like she forgets what she’s supposed to do with her legs or how to move. Another loss from dementia. Her memory was poor today too. Often that means she’s had a bad night, but that wasn’t the case today.
Over lunch at the garden centre she was confused about how to eat. We have realised that a whole portion is far too much so today we had 2 dinners and an extra plate between the three of us. T shared a piece of salmon, some chips and a few peas, a carrot slice and a spoonful of cabbage with Mum. We provide a selection of cutlery. Knife and fork, dessert spoon, teaspoons and lots of paper napkins. 2 cups for her coffee, because a full one is too heavy to hold. She likes a cappuccino, I think mostly for the froth and the chocolate sprinkling on top. Today she said, ” I’d just like someone to feed me”. This was new. It took both T and I aback a little, though I don’t think we show it. She put her hand on my knee as I helped feed Mum with a teaspoon. Another step on this journey of endings.
Later we took Mum for a drive. Endings are hard for her, and sometimes its hard for us to manage. She doesn’t like goodbyes. We stopped at the park by the lake where we could sit in the car and watch the geese and ducks and a solitary swan. mum liked seeing the small children running and playing on the path in front of us. A young mum went by with a baby in a buggy, ” Oh its a long time since we were doing that isn’t it?” she said wistfully.
I took a risk and asked mum if she remembered the hall stand she used to have in the hall. instantly she remembered it. I asked her where it had come from. “My Grandmother”, she said and ‘Have you got it now?. I told her I would put it in our hall and that made her happy. Sometimes those long-term memories are fresh as daisies. We bought a glass vase with some paper poppies in. They reminded Mum of the house she used to live in with my Dad before they moved near to us. The house was next to a field and along the boundary between their house and the field they grew blowsy red poppies interspersed with huge, falling over plants of lavender.
Every day like this I wonder if this means the end is coming. I think she wonders that too.