All in Crafty

Nostalgia is not the new fad. Making things from scratch is not the new cool. Using your own elbow grease to scrub your baseboards the old-fashioned way is not just hip. It’s about living in a way that makes homes into places that care for the stranger and also the nearby friend. If in the process we rediscover the way they did things back then, it’s because no technology can ever replace what the time and trouble achieved. We will not stop hungering and thirsting for authenticity and presence.
I had this notion of a swallow, the image of love and sacrifice, winging through a little arched door, such as might give on to The Secret Garden or Wonderland or perhaps even the forgotten rose bed in Burnt Norton. I thought immediately of Jean “Davy” Vanuaken, my real-life heroine of A Severe Mercy, and her chosen “low door” of obscurity and service for the love of Christ. I thought of all the beauty that has ever gone unlauded by the world, and the love that breathes life into it and the joy that rises from it like the incense of a thank offering — and I knew not only what I wanted to do, but why
We seldom see each other’s things left undone, and we sure don’t want others to see ours. We pretend we’re finished works in public, our seams finished, our loose threads neatly trimmed. Exposing the messy undersides is one of the vulnerabilities of living with others — and one of the graces of being intimately known.
As I walked past the line of garbage cans that always posted sentry duty on Sunday nights, I scanned idly for any interesting abandonments — books or furniture whose owner had left them out for neighborhood salvagers to claim. I had learned in my last two years in New York that while the city might be stingy with space, its residents were a bit more laissez-faire with belongings they could no longer use. (In fact, I once heard a five-minute presentation on the best times of the month and neighborhoods to go looking for things.)
Those unfinished projects no longer seem tragic. They’re comforting evidence that, like me, like all of us, mom lived with gaps between intention and fruition. I have the choice, and the privilege, but not the obligation, to finish some of what she started. Though I am my mother’s uncompleted work, I think she would approve.
We have settled into winter here in Virginia. The salty white streets blend right into the chalky horizon. Cold cloaks our home and seeps in through the cracks. We’re expecting snow tonight. But fragrant on my stovetop is the scent of summertime. And if I close my eyes and stand in the warm steam rising from the pot, I can remember the sultry day when the children and I canned this soup. The laughter rang loudly that afternoon, and the tomatoes splattered all over the kitchen. Months gone now, yet still I find remnants stuck to the cabinets. And I smile. Canning food is a messy, measured, raucous process and I love it.
For me, pressing my brush against a canvas shakes the snow globe of monotony. It’s how I process this season of life and refill my cup. More than that, it’s the way I etch toward beauty, contemplate truth, and lasso the wayward bits of myself so I have more to give to the people I love.
When I was a child and my mother called me over so she could pull the measuring tape around my chest and along my torso, I didn’t think much of it. She knitted often, and making sweaters for me was a regular event. We lived in upstate New York; sweaters were necessary. Being a child, though, those sweaters didn’t mean much more than my other pieces of clothing. To me, they were just sweaters.