A Partridge in a Pear Tree?

On Bearing Fowl Gifts and Other Sorts

What Kind of Present is a Bird Anyway?

19-partridgeinapeartree72I was in a girls’ ensemble in the eighth grade, and we learned a very rambunctious song called “The 12 Days After Christmas.” I remember thinking it was a hilarious parody of the original. For example, the first line: “The first day after Christmas, my true love and I had a fight, and so I chopped the pear tree down and burned it just for spite.” The rest of the song continued pretty much in the same vein. I liked it much better than the original, which I always found to be very tiresome and not very pleasant as far as the gifts were concerned.

Years later, I was subjected to the religious interpretation of the “Twelve days of Christmas.” You know, each gift represents something holy like the tenth day represents the ten commandments, etcetera, and the song was a code to reveal true believers. However, the original song was written in old French, and some lines have been misinterpreted through the years. The fourth day’s gift is four collie bird not four calling birds, which would actually be black birds, and the five gold rings refer to ring-necked pheasants.

I realize that to have such bountiful gifts— birds for five days— would have meant a lot in those days, but I’m just not a gaming kind of woman, and I really would prefer pears and gold rings, and as for lords-a-leaping, maids-a-milking, and all the rest, well they could all be distributed evenly among people who like to bake and dance the gavotte and all of that kind of stuff. But I swear if someone gave me  pipers piping and drummers drumming knowing my predisposition for migraines, I think that I would have a good defense for extenuating circumstances in an assault case.

Creative Gift-giving Means More

So anyway, the whole partridge in a pear tree made me think of a few things. This year, we’re really stretching our dollars to be creative with presents. I usually go overboard and buy everyone way too much simply because I usually can, and I love to buy presents for people. I love to search for things that are different and special, things that are suited to an individual’s personality. For example, one year, I was able to surprise a friend of mine with some antique cuff links. He had occasion to wear his tuxedo often, and I knew that he had a fondness for vintage 50’s items, so I happened upon a pair of cuff links in an antique store. They weren’t terribly expensive, and I thought that they would be a different sort of present, so I bought them. I believe that he liked them very much. Unfortunately, we fell out of touch years ago, but that’s the sort of present that he might hold onto.

One year, I took a black and white photograph of mine of which I was very proud, and I had several copies made, and then a friend of mine helped me to mat and frame them. I gave these to several close friends for Christmas; my only regret was that I did not make one for myself. This year, my youngest son is into thrift store and vintage clothing, which is helping with the shopping budget. One of my nieces wants Obama memorabilia, and I have plenty of that from the campaign, so I’m going to make her a few memory pages.

I was trying to remember some of my best presents, the ones that have meant the most to me over the years, and here are a few that stand out in my memory:

The first birthday present that Corey bought me was a wooden trinket box that had a few dried sweetheart roses and some baby’s breath and a very beautiful quote enclosed in glass on the top. I put my special jewelry in that box.

When the boys were working with clay in grade school, Brett made a clay dog and a clay cat; it’s a little hard to tell the difference. I still have both of those.

My friend Becky from the Museum once gave me a card with some fairy dust in a little glass vial tied to the fairy’s hands on the top of the card. I thought that it was one of the coolest things ever. She was always giving me really unique cards. I love cards, and I keep most of the ones that I get. The fairy dust card always goes on my mural.

My best friend Mari gave me a soft white sweater when I was going through my white sweater phase. I won’t tell you how old it is, but it’s cotton and it’s extremely soft from wear. Whenever I’m feeling blue or lonely, I pull out that particular sweater and put it on, frayed collar, split seam, and all.

Alexis took a photography class in high school. One of the most memorable shots she created was with a friend. Alexis laid down backwards on the staircase with her long hair flowing backwards, and her friend shot it. Lex developed it and mounted it on a piece of black board. That shot always goes right in the middle of my mural wherever I go. It is one of the most unusual photographs I have ever seen, and people who see it always remark on it. I don’t ever want to be without it.

The best present my ex-husband ever gave me, besides my children, was a cup of lilacs that he cut from a tree outside our apartment in Blacksburg in the spring.

My mom gave me a garnet tennis bracelet for a significant birthday. I finally had to stop wearing it every day because the jeweler said that I was ruining it. I love that bracelet.

Infinity Series

A very dear friend who used to work with me at the newspaper bequeathed the Konica 35 mm camera to me when he moved on to the Boston Globe. I still have that camera, and I’ve taken some of my best shots with it.

One year at the Mother’s Day tea at preschool, Eamonn gave me a green felt magnet with his picture on it that he had made himself, and then a couple of years later, he gave me some purple stick on earrings that he bought at the school Christmas shop because purple is my favorite color and he said that I would look “elegant.”  The earrings are in my box from Corey.

My mother-in-law was cleaning out her jewelry box, and she and my sister-in-law decided that a gold and multi-colored jewel ring that she had had for years but never wears should be mine. They both said that the ring looked like me. It came from overseas somewhere, probably Thailand. It’s not a temple ring, but similar because it is in rows, and it is absolutely gorgeous. It is one of my most-prized possessions.

One Christmas about three years ago, Corey surprised me with a full-length black leather coat that I had seen at the store and really loved but knew we couldn’t really afford. I still have that coat, and it’s as soft as ever.

My friend Kathleen and I used to work together for a government contractor in Northern Virginia. We would go out to lunch frequently, and because she made more money than I did, and I had a young baby at home, she mostly treated. She called me her therapist. Those were some of the best two-hour lunches of my life. I don’t think that there was any subject that we didn’t talk about. You don’t get that kind of friendship often in your life, and when you do, it’s a rare gift.

Recently, Corey’s mom surprised us by treating us to a night out at the Kennedy Center to see “Phantom of the Opera.” She knows how much Corey and I both love the play, and she has always wanted to go to the Kennedy Center, so it was an extra special treat for all of us. The four of us really enjoyed ourselves.

Speaking of nights out, Corey surprised me with tickets to see Lewis Black at the Warner Theater for Mother’s Day. He bought the tickets when he found out that Lewis Black would be in D.C. on the same weekend as my commencement from George Washington University so that we could make a weekend out of it. He knows how much I love Lewis Black. It was a hilarious show.

When my friend Rebecca lived in England for a couple of years, she sent me a beautiful kilt pin for my birthday one year. It is so me, and it meant so much that she thought of me while she was far away. We always end up giving each other jewelry somehow.

My niece in Germany just sent me a shamrock from Ireland. I found out that she was going, and I told her that I had always wanted to go to Ireland, but since I couldn’t go, maybe she could send me a piece of Ireland. She sent shamrocks for Alexis, me, her other cousin, and her other aunt that is here. What a sweetie.

These are the kinds of presents that you cherish. They don’t all cost money; some don’t cost anything at all. It’s the thoughtfulness behind them that makes them remain in the sandcastles of memory. I need to remind myself of that. Too often on Christmas morning, after everything has been unwrapped, it looks as if ten people live here instead of four. Part of it comes from being an only child, I think. I want that big family feeling I remember from Great Bridge at Christmas. But we can do it with fewer presents and more love.

More later. Peace.


Photographs as Amaranthine Tranche de Vie


 Ottawa River, Ohio (with film grain effect), L. Liwag

 Through My Lens Cap

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”  ~ Dorothea Lange

Quite accidentally, I stumbled upon a gem of a site today: “The Absolutely Innovative Photography of Glenn Losack” (click this link to go to the site: http://www.glennlosackmd.com/-/glennlosackmd/default.asp).  Dr. Losack’s photographs have appeared in National Geographic, and it’s easy to see why. His images are amazing and moving. I would include one here, but they are copyrighted, so if you have an interest in really amazing photography, visit his site. He manages to capture emotion and pain in his subjects’ eyes without being exploitative.

Old Cemetery, L. Liwag

Just as with the piano, I have never considered myself to be an artist with the camera. However, I do think that I’m a better photographer than piano player. I find things with my lens that I never found with the keyboard. I do own a digital camera now, a very nice one, but I still have the 35mm camera that I obtained while working at the newspaper years ago. It needs a new spring, but I have no intentions of letting go of this cherished possession. I have taken some of my favorite photos with it. I also have my father’s old 35mm camera. It too needs some TLC, but I have kept it.

My father shared my love of photography. He used to buy used cameras from pawn shops and have them cleaned. The same with a lens. He had an ability to find a good lens at a pawn shop, and get a great deal on it. I think that it was because of his accent. The people in the pawn shop used to think that he didn’t have any idea what he was doing, and they would try to sell him crap, and then he would surprise them by pointing to the classic Konica or Pentax and looking it over with a jeweler’s glass. No fool, my father.

Unfortunately, I have never had enough room in my house for my own darkroom, but there is a very good local developer here.  One day, if I get a big old house in the mountains, I’ll have a dark room in the basement. I’ll have to reteach myself how to develop, but that will be a good thing.

Like many creative things in my life, I don’t shoot much black and white film any more. When I was younger, I never went anywhere without a camera, just in case I came across something worth shooting. Then when the children were born, it became more about taking family pictures. I would still go out once in a while, just me and my camera and shoot a couple of rolls of film.

“Your photography is a record of your living.” ~ Paul Strand

Snowfall on Firewood, L. Liwag

If you’ve never seen the foothills of Virginia, you should. Granted, they aren’t like the Colorado Rockies, but they have a beauty all their own. Skyline Drive was created as one of Roosevelt’s WPA projects. Skyline Drive is 105 miles long if you drive the whole thing; it runs through Shenandoah National Park through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. We usually get on at Rockfish Gap in the south, which is just past Charlottesville. The speed limit is only 35 miles an hour because the whole point is to take your time and see the sites. There are 75 scenic overlooks, some much better than others, and if you begin the drive in the early morning, you’ll see lots of natural wildlife, everything from deer to bobcats. At some point about two thirds on the drive, I think, is a man made tunnel, cut through the rock, very cool. If you go all the way to the end of Skyline Drive, you’ll end up in Front Royal, which is closer to Northern Virginia.

At Rockfish Gap, you can also get on the Blue Ridge Parkway if you turn right instead of left. But again, driving on either of these roads is dependent upon weather. It can be treacherous if there is snow and impossible if there is ice. The best time to do Skyline Drive is during the fall when the leaves are turning, and then you can stay at the Skyland Lodge, which is still open. The lodge closes at the end of November. If you go on the Blue Ridge Parkway, there is a beautiful place to stay called Peaks of Otter which is on a lake, and there are also hiking trails. We went there when I was pregnant with Brett, so I wasn’t able to do much hiking, but sitting out by the lake in the early morning, watching the mist on the lake was incredible.

I really miss our annual trips to the mountains, for many reasons, not the least of which is the film that I brought home with me. I’m hoping that once I get this whole back situation straightened out or at least made better, I will at least be able to do day hikes. I know that Tillie the Labrador will enjoy that. And now that the price of gasoline has become reasonable again, a trip to the mountains might be feasible next year. I suppose I had better get to work on the old 35mm cameras. My Dad would not appreciate the disrepair into which I have let them fall.

And like my feelings about older cameras, my feelings about photography tend  to fall in line with those of the originators of the medium:

 “Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience”

~ Henri Cartier Bresson

 More later. Peace.