The past summer, the first of my retirement, my early morning hours were spent on Ancestry.com researching our family histories to bring this process, started 2013 in preparation for our tour of Ireland, to a point where I can start to consolidate it into a document shared with other family members.
It is a wonderful feeling when the pieces come together. For example the passenger manifest when Grandfather McArdle brought Grandmother and then three year old Mom to Quebec, Canada from the port of Belfast April 1926.
Their belongings are gathered together in just such a manner. My parents marked all my belongings that left the home with me with my name and address.
Our thought were on this when we selected this suitcase marked with the shamrock from a “Christmas Store” along the streets of the Pennsylvania town of Jim Thorpe, as the memory of our ancestors our exploration of Ireland.
Our Nutcracker wooden figure carries a weight of memories. Early memories are of my sister, Christina’s Sugar Plum Fairy solo for Saint Aidan Parish talent program, Mom’s appreciation of performance of Swan Lake in her pre-child past, a friend of my Mom was a former dancer who taught Christina ballet. Hanging quietly, these memories swirl around the Nutcrackers open maw.
Ten years ago we observed New Years Day 2009 in the lobby of Winthrop Medical Center, Mineola, New York waiting for the outcome of Mom’s hip replacement surgery grateful the head of Orthopedics was performing the surgery. That year saw large changes played out in the last four years of her life, she never returned to her home of 52 years.
From then on her winters were spent with her daughter Diane in Mesa, Arizona. Mom would call us, amused at the sight of neighbors walking by in 50 degree weather in winter parkas. She was well known in Albertson for her habit of walking everywhere, it was fortunate she never needed to learn how to drive a car: all she needed was readily at hand.
I needed to return to Albertson several times a year to our childhood home. December 2009, Pam and I melded the trip with a day in New York City. Memories of Mom’s enjoyment of Swan Lake drew me to purchase tickets for The Nutcracker. The New York City Ballet has performed The Nutcracker every Christmas season since 1954, when I was one year old. The 56th performance was our first.
As with Dante’s version of hell, the David H. Koch Theater has rings. I sprang for the highest ring, the fourth, the least costly and, optimistically, the best vantage to view the formations of grouped dancers.
A full orchestra is dedicated to each performance, the hall acoustics are fabulous, and we were able to appreciate the scenes, the grouped dancers and, even, the soloists. The last scene of the first act, the Snowflakes (or Snow Crystals), brought tears to my eyes, the music, the scene was impossibly beautiful and brought back some experiences of mine in winter nature.
We were hooked after that, immersed in the very real (i.e., non-virtual) alternate reality at least two Sunday afternoon performances each year, seeing all Tchaikovsky’s ballets in the style of Balanchine for which the New York Ballet is famous. For the 59th season of The Nutcracker were brought two granddaughters, took fourth third row orchestra seats. We marveled at the experience. It included, during intermission, a photo session with a character from the performance.
Here they are with a Snowflake. This is a scan of one of the 8 x 10 prints we received from this session.
We planned to share a performance of Swan Lake with Mom during the September 2013 season, in her 90th year. Mom passed away in her birth month, June, 2013.
Carrying on the thoughts on lambency from my last post, “Christmas Ornaments 2018 III”, here is a macro of our Christmas tree. There is no element of the Christmas celebration so puzzling to outsiders as the practice of sacrificing a beautiful tree, to drag it inside for display, presenting a part of the forest as a sacred object, touched by light or, in earlier times, tongues of fire (candles).
Stories of the fragrance of holiness, sometimes attributed to the Holy Spirit or Saints, are sprinkled throughout traditional Christianity within personal testimony and scripture as well as in our celebrations and rites as incense. A character of the freshly cut pine that melds well with this tradition is the unmistakable fragrance of a freshly cut evergreen conifer , reminiscent of the precious, aromatic resin frankincense, one of the gifts to the infant Jesus from the three wise men of the east. In spite of saving several dozen authentic trees, our artificial conifer has not acquired the sacred fragrance.
The first blown-glass bulbs, such as our large elaborate specimen of the photograph, were produced by heating sand to the melting point, putting a dab on the end of a very long heat resistant pipe. When encircled by a clay mold, when the pipe is blown into the glass expands to coat with clay with a thin layer of glass. The addition of silver and other shiny compounds allow the finished product to capture and reflect light. Each bulb is its own lambent tongue of flame, licked with captive light.
The attitude of today’s resin figure, alert, vigilant, aware while not exactly at odds with her accoutrements, provide a counter point to the flower banner and crown, a basket of flowers.
After publishing my previous post, “Christmas Ornaments 2018 II”, a word that escaped me during that writing came to mind. Lambent came to mind. From the Latin meaning “to lick”, used in the sense of “to glow with light”, as in a tongue of flickering flame, a visual analog to the numinous as in halos of the saints such as the “Immaculate Conception” of the first post of this series.
This fairy is entirely, by her dress, of an older version of this world, defiantly hanging on. Proud of her accomplishments, ready to vanish in a moment. Doing exactly as she pleases and happy to leave lambency to a fellow traveler, the Christmas Tree.
Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills
Pam integrated this charming resin figure into her mantle “Immaculate Conception” Christmas tableau (click link for this post). A former co-worker (Pam is retired) gifted a pair of these for Christmas. The lady was a dedicated cable shopper before the internet era, sharing with Pam the news of her latest acquisitions. She was similar to my Mother in this way, at the time of Mom’s passing the Asian Immaculate Conception statue of the previous post was set aside, carefully packed away, in her basement to be used as a future gift for one of us (her) children. Mom was a catalog shopper.
This winged creature, placed as an attendant to the Virgin within the tableau, is a fairy or sprite, not an angel. As visualized for the popular imagination, descendants of Victorian fancy, these are nature spirits, tied to the earth, part of the natural environment as in the illustrations of Arthur Rackham for Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Our attendant is a citified, well dressed, cousin of the rural sprites. She could walk down a New York City street and may not incite too much attention from passerbys except for her flower banner, spring garland headdress and preternatural beauty, not to mention the gemstone the size of a egg around her right wrist. Oh, and the wings.
Our sprite bears a well wrapped gift, signaling her as an emblem of the Christmas (or birthday?) season, an attendant to the future Mother of Jesus walking on a tinsel cloud among the spheres of heaven.
Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills