My dad makes magic with wood. My mom tells magnificent stories in paintings and quilts. Jenifer writes Christmas poems, hosts gingerbread house parties, and keeps our visual memories every year in a calendar. Julie is notoriously crafty and makes politically-relevant dolls, among other things, and kept me warm last night with a hand-crocheted afghan. Jill makes the most delicious cookies and macaroni and cheese you have ever tasted.
We are the makers. The creators. The artists. The strivers.
There is an intimate connection between the hand and the heart.
“I made this. For you.”
We always drew our own birthday cards and Valentines, until it became more efficient to buy them. We made Mother’s and Father’s Day cards, handcrafted with crayons and colored pencils, sometimes the morning of, with a sense of verse that was laughable, indiscernible, and poetically, incongruously, and curiously sweet.
“Blue as the sky
Bright as the sun
Yellow and black as a bumblebee might be
Happy Mother’s Day to you from me.”
Jenifer and Julie made embroidered pillows for Jill and me one Christmas. I got a light blue dog, and Jill received a cat, in pink. Another year, my sisters made me an anaconda out of green and white hand cloths, appealing to my weird and precocious obsessions about exotic animals. I dragged it lovingly behind me for months after, on my own personal safari, until the segments disconnected, and all we had left were rags and tufts of cotton.
I miss those days. Of making things. That connection between hand and heart.
Did we want to, or did we have to? I’m not sure.
I’ve tried making gifts before. One Christmas, I gave cards made out of photographs that I took in a New York City snowstorm. For birthdays, I created some Japanese-style origami cards for my mom and for Shaul’s mom, hoping they would send them out to friends. Graciously, they both framed them. There is a wonderful 96-year-old woman in Jerusalem who sleeps below my art over her head every night. There is a beautiful woman in Des Moines, my mother, who lets my art keep watch over her living room.
I drew a caricature of a colleague several years ago for a work anniversary. He hated it. I found it stuffed away in a storage room when I was working on site with them a couple of years ago, while trying to find some easels and foam-core boards. Other clients have asked me to draw cartoons — “for fun” — of their senior leaders.
They never asked me back. Word has it that the CEO thought his nose was too big. Another complained that I accentuated her breasts.
I come from a long line of makers. Creators. Strivers. Some of us make art for a living. Some of us make art. For living. As living.
With every gift, there’s a little (or a lot) of us inside it. We make it with our own hands.
What can I give or make — and not just buy? How do I tell the people I love that I love them?
My dad wields a jigsaw and a planer, with expertise. I imagine him working alone, in a cocoon of tranquility that only he can hear. My mother deftly uses her brushes, sometimes up at the small hours, listening to the news or an old movie. My uncle and my niece draw better than I can ever hope to. I know better than to compete with greatness. Surrendering with admiration is preferable to grudging and self-hating envy. Shaul, of course, has built me castles, sometimes out of love and other times as a personal architectural conquest. My sisters, respectively, use their poetry, their needles, their stoves of home. Their capacity to give. I remember all that they’ve offered to me, and I feel love.
Sitting here, knitting words and trying to make the pieces fit, I’m wondering what I might do. To let them know that I feel thanks. To let them know that words flow from the heart to the hands, and back again. I am trying to write.
Something useful, that they might keep.
I know their artistry.
In my family, we give gifts. The most special kind.
We make them ourselves.