Today may or may not be Twelfth Night, depending on who you ask. But in my childhood, today, January 6, was Little Christmas and the day that all decorations had to be removed or it was bad luck. Since I didn’t put up any decorations, I’m safe. Whew.
The one Christmas tradition I have observed over the past 15 years or so is making presents with my godchildren. They plot and plan come over individually (from the time that going bye bye in the car alone with us was a thrill) to make presents for their parents and one another in great secrecy and with much excitement. We progressed from glue and glitter to knitting and woodworking. Each year the gifts were different from each kid according to ability. (To each according to need?) Each year, no one could make the same thing someone else had made the previous year. I now have quite the repertoire of homemade present ideas. The best part was that the main thrill of Christmas morning was not the getting of gifts, but the watching while others opened and oohed and ahhed over the thing you MADE. By yourself.
This year, in the interests of grownupnitude and time, names were chosen, so each child made one gift and then all pitched on the gift for the parents. This is really what I want a picture of, especially the making. However, since I am a regular sufferer of camnesia I just never got around to taking pictures. We made quilted patchwork placemats, using primarily leftovers from many years of gift making. Sorting through the scraps and ironing them out was the most fun. “Remember when I used this for Sarah’s present? I don’t think she ever used it.” “Remember when I used this for T? She just does not appreciate hand-crafted presents.”
Thank goodness L remembered just in time that the fabric with the gold stars on it could not be pressed in the usual way and remember when we tried and set off the smoke alarm? That’s what true patchwork is all about to me. Not bags of purchased fat quarters, but little bits of memory. After several hours of cutting strips and laying them out amid much laughter, one pinned, one sewed and one ironed the seams flat. He claimed never to have used an iron before, which made him the object of much derision. He was called Ironing Boy for the remainder of the day. The placemats turned out beautifully. And when their mother opened them up there was more strolling down memory lane. Oh, here’s the tea cozy, and look, remember the cushions for keeping the butt warm while watching hockey games? (OK, not all of my ideas were great.) If anyone is interested in the placemat details, I’d be glad to share. I’m sure there are plenty of sites out there with information on how to do such a thing in a beautiful and correct manner. If you are need of quick and dirty, however, see me.
Other gifts were being made while the patchwork went on, since they were for two cousins not there to peek. Quote of the afternoon: L, knitting away on a roll brim hat in Rowan Big Wool on size 15 needles “Wow, I had no idea I could knit this fast!” B made a lanyard to hang over the his sister’s neck and hold her keys. It turned out very cute, thanks to a little assistance from the good folks at Beadmonkey. It reminded me of a favorite Billy Collins poem, a sort of wry ode to the handmade gift.
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.