This story is dedicated to my mother (see picture at end of post). Today would have been her 94th birthday. She went to be with our Heavenly Father on December 14, 2010. I miss you dearly, Mossie (This is name by which all of her friends and family knew her best). . .
Twigs, Leaves and Pine Cones
Autumn, a most distinguishable season known expressively for its droppings. The spillage of defoliation dons front yards, backyards, streets, rooftops, gutters, you name it. The wind swirls and twirls that which has dropped wherever on whatever happens to be in its path. The result: hours upon hours of raking, sweeping, blowing, scooping, dumping, burning, cleaning, etc. Yet, in the midst of it all is splendiferous beauty and visions of inspiration waiting to be captured within the creative mind. Even in its frondy abandonment, each tree exposes its skeletal branches in patterns unique to one’s imagination.
It is on such an autumnal afternoon that sheer creativity encapsulates my mind’s eye. The source: my mom, aka Mossie. This is during a time when being outdoors is more frequent than indoors, and twigs, leaves and pine cones of deciduous trees and shrubs come to be more than the announcement of the oncoming dread of winter.
“Kitten!” Mama calls from the back porch. That’s my nickname. From the time I can first remember, I have a love and strong affinity to cats.
“Coming.” I quickly run into the house wondering why I am called inside so soon. I’ve been outside only long enough to scan the pecan trees whose naked branches extend an invitation upward and outward to climb on board. They will just have to wait to see which one might be chosen next. The way I love to climb those trees my thoughts quickly shift to a better nickname, that of Monkey. Erase those thoughts! I’ll stay with Kitten.
The screen door slams and Mama immediately turns around giving me ‘THE look’ which lasts for only a few seconds. She wipes her hands on her already soiled apron and extends her arms for a quick hug. “Guess what, Kitten? I need you to collect some twigs, leaves and pine cones.” Understand I am only allowed to climb the pecan trees and the oak, so usually the area of the pine trees is off limits. Mama knows if given the opportunity, I would surely try to climb one!
“That’s silly. Why do we need twigs, leaves and pine cones?” Of course, I know in my mind Mama is just trying to get me to help clean up the yard. Right? I must admit it needs some TLC but that really is not one of my favorite chores. Yet, further thought does lead to it being a better choice than cleaning the toilet.
“Ah-h-h, my sweet, we are going to make something beautiful!” Mama gleams with excitement.
The only response I can think of is “WHAT?” Um-m-m? How does one possibly make something beautiful out of twigs, leaves (mostly dead at this point) and pine cones? My thoughts are running rampant.
“You’ll see. Think creative. Put your imagination to work. Now, go on outside. Get the bucket from the back porch and collect a goodly amount of the twigs, leaves and pine cones. Not just any mind you. Be selective. Look for twigs with character, leaves that still have hints of color and pine cones of different shapes. Now go!” With that being said, Mama returns to her kitchen duties leaving me to my collection detail. Or so I think…
While I am scurrying around the yard trying to decide how a twig could have character, gather leaves with just the right subtleness of color and filter through the hundreds of pine cones, unbeknownst to me Mama is busy in the house with her own ‘gatherings’. Buttons, glitter, glue, tape, sequins, loose costume jewels, scraps of fabric, old corsage pins, pieces of ribbon and rick rack, couple of tiny bells from old cat collars and anything else she deems decorative finds their place in an old shoe box. Once enough items are gathered she returns to the kitchen and sets the box on the table.
Upon completing my task, I skip across the yard back to the house and set the bucket down at the kitchen door. Mama motions me toward the table. She opens the shoe box and places all of the items in neat little piles. What happens next totally blows me away and leads to the decision she is the most creative mom, possibly person, in the world! The magic begins…
The shoebox becomes the foundation covered with one of the colorful pieces of fabric. With pins and folds she fastens the cloth securely to the box. Buttons, sequins, jewels, ribbon and rick rack are glued or sewn on around the sides adding dimension and style. The two tiny bells are placed in the center of a bow anchored at one corner.
“Now, hand me the bucket.” Several twigs, a couple of handfuls of leaves and about a half dozen pine cones are carefully selected from those collected in the bucket. Mama separates the items and asks me what I think of those she has chosen.
“Look at each twig not as a stick but as a symbol. Does it form an arc like a crescent moon? Does it contain tiny branches that could be thought of as arms? Are any spurs or scars on the twig?” With that being said, I understand what she means by looking for twigs with character. A few are hand picked and laid aside with care to protect their fragility.
“Let’s see what kind of leaves you found,” she continues. “Place all of the leaves in a pile and gently use your fingers as a rake. Sweep through the leaves until one strikes your attention, set it aside. Continue with another and another, setting each aside one-by-one until you have at least a dozen leaves. I’m going to pour us a glass of milk and when I return we will look at the leaves you have chosen.”
Mama returns to the table not only with an ice cold glass of milk but a small platter of her most delicious chocolate chip cookies. We each take one, dip it in the milk and take a big bite. We are lucky we can even swallow because of our smiling and giggling. “Now,” she softly says. “Let’s see the leaves you have sorted according to your thoughts. I want you to tell me what you sense in each one.”
I daintily pick up a leaf and begin to study its delicate features. Tiny veins run up and out with each vein branching into more veins. I look at a leaf like I have never seen one before this day. I smell it, run my fingers across its surface and take in every ounce of color that still remains. “Mama, look! These two match; they have the same orange spot on them. Look at this one, it is half brown and half tan. And, here are three, each with three colors! Two others are as golden as the sun and another has freckles. Mama, this one has a touch of red, is it bleeding?”
“No, sweetie” Mama laughs. “Each has its own distinct markings and color because it is the autumn season. You have done a good job, Kitten. Hand me the bucket, time to move on to the pine cones. I see you have brought different sizes, some long and thin, some squatty.”
“Squatty?” I laugh. “What a silly word. You mean short, don’t you?”
“Okay, some long and some short,” replies Mama.
“Squatty!” I laugh out loud. “I like that word. It’s funny.”
“Then, hand me three squatty cones and four of the elongated, you know long cones. Choose the glitter you want. There is some gold, silver and blue.” As I reach for the glitter, Mama calls out, “And, don’t forget the glue. Grab the tape, too.”
We glue, glitter, sequin and jewel the pine cones, thread leaves onto the twigs being ever so cautious not to tear a single one, dab each with a touch of glue and dust them all with a little ‘snow’. Mama arranges them on top of the covered box and when finished, it looks like a forest out of fairyland.
I will never forget that day. The day I learned about autumn and how much beauty can be found in twigs, leaves and pine cones. Thank you, Mama, for your creative mind and teaching me beauty can be found in the most unexpected places if you will only use your imagination and be creative. I love you!
Anita Louise Lee
Oct. 10, 1919 – Dec. 14, 2010
A Short Story by Sharla Lee Shults ©2013
(Not to be reproduced without permission of the author.)