the christmas pillows, 2002

Monday 24 January 2011…   turners twiddles

The tale of yet another stress-laden, depression-laden Christmas. I’m sure readers don’t like it — so many tales of gloom. What can I tell you. I don’t like it either. In fact I resent it quite a lot that since 1997 I’ve had to spend so many holidays and birthdays and plain old days with various ugly millstones hanging around my bloody neck. I don’t like it one bit.

In 2002 money was tighter than ever. I’d had a small part-time job for a good long while, and as small a job as it was, the money really helped keep me and my animals afloat. But after years of putting up with my two certifiably bonkers employers, I couldn’t take it anymore, and quit. They’d wanted me to quit for a long while anyway, because they had drained out the money they were using to pay me by buying a van. This money wasn’t theirs, but they had legal access to it. In September I quit.

I quit and began scrabbling to find either a roommate to help with expenses, or another little job. By Christmas I still hadn’t found either. I couldn’t buy any gifts that year, and I had a certain small number of people to whom I wanted to give gifts. That year was my big year of drawing. I drew more than I have in any other year of my life, and all this drawing started out as a way to relieve stress for a while each day. But around the time I quit my job, the drawing had become something else: a way to bring in a very few dollars. I’d found a store to take my bookmarks on consignment, and that brought in just a little bit. I also sold a good number of them myself, directly to people I knew. By the time December 25 rolled around, I’d actually had two very bad days when I’d gone begging with two small pictures I drawn. I begged one friend to buy one from me, saying that she could pay anything at all for it, no amount would be too small or insulting. They were small pictures, after all. Maybe 5 inches by 5 inches. She chose the one that had taken me the most time. Layers and layers of various colors and kinds of ink. A butterfly. She paid me $20 for it, and I thought that was a fortune for a small drawing by an unknown artist. The next day I went to Greenfield and took my other picture with me. I ran into someone I knew, told her that I’d begun drawing (she’d only known me as a writer), and showed her my little thing. She said she really liked it. “Would you want to buy it?” She asked me how much, and again I said anything at all. Ten dollars. I was pleased. Thirty dollars from these two small pictures; but that amount of money that almost everyone would consider small, made a difference to me and my animals that Christmas. There were several other kinds of begging I had to do that holiday season, and that’s enough said about that. Shame. Humiliation. And Christmas gifts? Everyone got either bookmarks or little pictures. More shame. I didn’t consider my art to be the right thing for a Christmas gift.                           

There was a blizzard that Christmas day. A real doozie. No human being called me, or visited me, or invited me over. I had my animals, and that was of course the most important thing. But as I’ve said elsewhere: at Christmas you expect to have at least a little something with family and/or friends of the human variety. The only human celebration open to me that day was a free Christmas dinner at one of the churches. The friend who’d bought my butterfly was running it. I’d been told about the time of the dinner before the forecasts for the blizzard started coming in. So on the day, I bundled up, trudged in the dark afternoon through the raging wind and the trillions of falling flakes and the piles of them on the sidewalks. Only to arrive and find that the dinner was nearly over. Most of the diners were gone, and those remaining had huge boxes of leftovers they were taking home. I sat down at the only table that still had a cloth on it, ate, and took a very few leftovers back with me, as there was practically nothing left. When I got back home to my animals, I wished I’d never left them on a stormy Christmas day to drag myself through nature’s fury for a bloody dinner that was over. I still wish that. I wish it more than ever. 

About a week before the big day and the storm and the dinner whose time got changed and nobody told me, I’d got two packages in the mail. One from my daughter with a variety of items in it, including more of the pens I drew with. And another big box from a friend. She’d told me in October that she was making throw pillows for people, asked if I’d like some, and I’d said yes. But in all the time since we’d had that talk, the stresses of my life had driven it out of my head, and I only remembered pillows when I saw the big box.

Five throw pillows, each a slightly different size, each made of a different fabric. They were cheerful, and cute, and hand-made by my friend far away, and in that particular gloom of that particular holiday season, those pillows delighted me. They delighted me for five and a half years, and I safeguarded those pillows like a security dog every time we had to move. I haven’t laid eyes on them now for nearly three years. They are in the storage unit, I hope. Four of them, anyway. What happened to the fifth is a post unto itself.  I miss all of my belongings, old and shabby as most of them are. But with yet another Christmas just gone, I’m at the time of year when I think of certain gifts that shine out in the gloom of my holidays over the last thirteen years. There’s always a smile for those pillows, and for the long-lost friend who made them.

The contradiction isn’t lost on me that while I found my own hand-done drawings a rather shameful thing to give at Christmas, I did not feel that way about Elizabeth’s pillows. Quite the opposite. Anything anyone else makes by hand is a great Christmas gift, as far as I’m concerned. But things made by me? Not so much.

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Friday 14 January 2011…    Turning white

This word is not pronounced to rhyme with tile. It’s the Irish spelling of the name Sheila, and that’s how you pronounce it. Síle was Miri’s daughter, one of those three that I’ve already said Miri produced. Of the other two, Julie died young, and Zachary will come up again in the spring. I’m ashamed that my memory isn’t absolutely positive about when these three hatched, and I can say with only a 90% degree of certainty that it was in April of 1995.

Síle was a very light grey, and had her family’s happy nature in a double portion, as her father was also her grandfather. All zebra finches have happy natures, as far as I’m concerned, and maybe it’s my biased mother’s eye that leads to me to believe that the line of my Romi and Juliet was an even happier crew. Or maybe not. Maybe they really were.

As the numbers in my finch family were lessened by age and death, by early in 1998 I had only one possible mother left, and it was Síle. I would cage her mostly with her uncle Pepper, and though she and Pepper did try more than once to make a family, she would always peck the eggs open after a few days of sitting. I didn’t know whether this was because she knew the eggs were infertile, or whether she was simply not mother material. Whichever it was, it resulted in the fact that when she died in January 1999, she left behind only her brother and her uncle, effectively ending a family that had begun in 1991. I would try one more time in 2001 to keep this family going by getting a new female to pair with Síle’s brother, but I had waited too long, and it didn’t work. Síle was the last lady of Juliet’s big family that I said good-bye to, and there were never any others after her.

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all photos, graphics, poems and text copyright 2008-2011 by anne nakis, all rights reserved.

(part of the book All My Stars)

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