Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's Goals and an Imperfect Mary

New Year's Goals and an Imperfect Mary

When I was a girl, we had a crib with all the Christmas story figurines. One of the shepherds had a lamb propped over his neck, like a woolen scarf. Two angels were propped up on top of the crib and a large silver star hung at the peak of the open creche. My father used to 'hide' the baby Jesus up high in the cabinet and surreptitiously place it in the manger before we got out of bed on Christmas morning. Over the years, with seven children playing with the ceramic figurines, they naturally got chipped and broken and lost. Some of the figures were so damaged with chunks of plaster gone so that we could see the wires at the centre of the figure. Eventually, the entire set dwindled down to only one sheep, one shepherd, one cow, two of the three wise men, one angel and of course Joseph, Mary and Jesus. But one year, we could not find Mary. I suppose she just couldn't sustain the wear and tear of our household. Baby Jesus still arrived on cue but it just wasn't the same without Mary.

The following Christmas, the creche was set up again but this time my mother had found a 'spare Mary' to complete the Christmas scene. However, because Mary had been scrounged from elsewhere and was not an original member of the set, she was quite a bit larger than the other figurines. In fact, Mary on her knees still managed to tower over Joseph who happened to be in a standing position. At the time, we were simply glad to have Mary back and it made no difference to us that she didn't 'match' the set.

Now, in retrospect, I am so grateful to have grown up in a family where things didn't match, where china was often chipped or cracked, where stairs creaked and windows rattled and where the gooseberry bushes overran the garden. I think our generation is obsessed with perfection. We want the best of everything. Few of us would glue up a broken figurine or replace a broken clasp on a bra or take apart a toaster to attempt to fix it. When we paint a room, we want things to match. There's even a name for these small items we place in the newly painted room: accents. When did 'accents' become something that everyday people had to worry themselves about? Personally, I love beautiful things. I am an artist, after all and aesthetics mean a lot to me. But do I love perfection too much? Is there some wisdom in the way I was raised? Where perfection was an ideal only to aspire to only in terms of developing character traits such as kindness and 'doing the right thing'.

This new year, I am going to sit down and write out my goals, as I always do. It's fun to think about what this next year might bring. But I am also going to include something different in my goals. That is, I'm going to include a “make-do” attitude. In certain areas in my life, I am going to be okay with imperfection. Not only am I going to be okay with it, I'm going to celebrate it. Why not? It's going to be a 'yes' kind of year: yes to hope, yes to kindness and yes to living in this imperfect world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Salvation Army Kettle Drive and the Snow That Came to Stay

The Salvation Army Kettle Drive and the Snow That Came to Stay

Each year it's the same thing. In November, I resist digging out my winter clothes. I delay and delay until it's been minus zero for over a week, and then finally I relent and I open up the dreaded 'box'. This year, as I unearth my winter things, I notice the slightly musty smell of the wool, the coolness of the attic and the snow gently falling. All of this releases that valve of memory from previous winters in Northern Ontario. And suddenly, I see myself at sixteen in January, wandering into the “Famous Shoe Repair”on Simpson Street.

As teenagers, my best friend and I often promenaded along the sidewalks of Simpson Street frequenting 'The Ukrainian Book Store', 'The European Bakery' (with the most amazing poppy seed bread in the world), 'Cherry's Corner', 'Morrows' Pianos', 'The Venice Grill' and, of course 'The Famous Shoe Repair Shop'. I remember how Gerry, the shoemaker, hummed to himself while he worked and his fingers were permanently stained. I loved that Gerry named his shop “Famous” and that he took the time to chat with us. And even more wonderful that his shop doors remain open to this day, as does the European Bakery!

As I reminisce, I slowly dawn my winter clothes. I am about to volunteer for the Salvation Army kettle drive and realize I may be stationed outside or near a drafty doorway. As I gently ring the bells throughout the afternoon, I remember a line from a play by John Books‒“The snow that came to stay, fell this night.” I wonder if 'this night' will be the snow that comes to stay. As I watch the snow, dozens of people stop to talk with me. One woman tells me the story of losing her brother in an industrial accident just following the war. “He survived the war, only to die back here in Canada.” A woman drops a twenty into the kettle saying, “Salvation Army saved my life so many times. Literally. I don't mind giving. I don't mind.” I have no explanation for this surge of conversation with strangers, other than the fact that the Salvation Army makes our communities kinder, gentler places. And it's snowing. Perhaps snow is our common thread. And as the months of winter fly by, I discover that this November day was indeed “the snow that came to stay.”