My mother was a spinner – and I don’t mean with yarn. No, she had a way of putting a positive spin on things when we her kids were little. Especially when my father was out of work and there was no money for heating oil, much less presents, she would show my siblings and me the value of creativity.
In fact, I think now, if she had a long-held religious belief it might have been: Creativity Saves.
I illustrated this about her in my Peace Corps memoir, How to Cook a Crocodile (Peace Corps Writers, 2010):
“My mother had a way of turning our circumstances downside-up. Buy a commercially manufactured doll off the shelf of a toy store? Well, anybody could do that! (She didn’t add that we didn’t have the money to do that.) What we could do, because we were blessed with creativity, was make our dolls. Our dolls would be unique in their adorableness. One-of-a-kind! Eventual collectors’ items! The whole concept was thrilling to me. It made me feel proud.”
We watched as our mother made dolls for my younger sisters and me from my father’s old socks – black, brown, beige, and white – stuffed with cotton. She showed us how she embroidered each doll’s smiling face, sewed on buttons for eyes, made hair from wool yarn. Then, from scraps of fabric she had used to make dresses for us three, she sewed pretty skirts and blouses for these soft and loveable, multi-ethnic sock dolls.
To my then young and spirited mother, Lee, who had come of age during the Great Depression and had lived through World War II, creativity trumped poverty. It was this spirit, her spirit, that I tried to bring to my classes at the women’s center, Maison des Femmes, where I taught cooking, sewing and crafts in Lastoursville, Gabon, for two years in the Peace Corps.
Friends from home sent me bags of old socks – mostly black and brown – at my urgent request. I showed the women how to cut, sew, and stuff the socks, with foam available from the marché; how to embroider happy faces; how to make yarn-hair. The women dressed these dark sock dolls in traditional African outfits, with matching head wraps, and gave them to their young daughters, most of whom had never owned a doll before.
One little girl who came to class with her mother carried her new sock doll lovingly wrapped on her back, the way her own mother carried her babies.
Such memories flood back to me this Christmas – this Christmas, which for most of us will be, due to the coronavirus pandemic, unlike all the others we’ve known. Cherished annual traditions – such as tree-trimming parties, large family gatherings, neighborhood caroling, candlelit church services – have had to be scrapped or severely scaled back to include only those in our immediate “bubble.” For too many, this state of affairs is deeply distressing, even depressing.
I wonder what my matter-of-fact, always-make-the-best-of-it, never-let-life-knock-you-down mother would make of all this if she were alive and well? I’m guessing she would say, “Be creative! Make a new kind of Christmas, a Christmas like no other! Make it FUN! The kids won’t miss a thing; in fact, they might learn a thing or two.”
She might even break into song (although her singing voice was woeful), putting a fresh new spin on tired old favorites: “Have yourself a merry little one-of-a-kind Christmas!” she might sing, or “A very merry un-Christmas to you!” Then she’d laugh at her universally recognized inability to carry a tune.
So I’ll say: Happy Holidays 2020 to All!
And may your own innate sparkling creativity save the day.