I hope everyone has a special moment at Christmas. Mine started when I was a little girl. Our live tree was bright with big multicolored lights, our heirloom ornaments hung - each with story to tell, and heavy tinsel coated the tree like a shaggy dog’s mane. Under the tree was my magical place. That was where the Nativity scene was splayed out with the holy family, three wise men, shepherds, and sheep. I loved to arrange and rearrange the figures. However, it was the stable that really held my attention. It was made by my Grandfather Niemann before the turn of the century. My Mom made sure that a bright light was shining through a hole in the back of the stable. The beam light shown down on the Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My Grandpa had a music box on the side of the stable. When I turned the key, tiny bells rang out "Silent Night." I laid there listening to the sweet music, as the pine scent deepened and the lights shone even brighter. The spirit of Christmas surrounded me.
One year, when I was ten, my mom surprised me. A big box was wrapped under the tree with my name on it. I could hardly wait to see what was in it. When I started to unwrap the gift, I saw another box also wrapped…then another and another…until there was one small box. Inside was a certificate that read, "The holder of this certificate is entitled to lessons at Meg and Lyn’s Ceramic studio." I was so excited. I loved art and was always drawing. My mom thought I had a talent like her mother. My Grandmother was a true artist back in the early 1900’s. Although she died before I was born, my mom told me stories about her. She said my grandma was a very talented musician and artist. All around our house were her oils and her huge painted tapestries. There were also fine china pieces that she painted which were displayed on a plate ring that ran around the living room – fish plates, platters and vases. Inside my mom’s china cabinet there were Grandma’s teacups, decorated jars, and small china lockets. Since her name was Adele and my middle name was Adele…I thought I was going to be a real artist. So, taking ceramic lessons was my first step.
Meg and Lyn were sisters. They only lived a quarter mile from my house, so I easily pedaled my bike to their studio each Saturday morning. As you walked in, there was a display of ceramic pieces. They had a real eye for what people liked and sold many pieces from that small studio. Toward the back was their workshop area – large tables, a kiln, and lots of green ware that was ready to fire. The studio had the unusual smell of clay, oil paint, and Meg and Lyn’s perfume. Even though they were there to work, they always wore dresses and had their hair and nails perfect.
I was surprised to find out that some of my classmates and other girls were in my art classes. We worked on projects for about a month until the piece was finished. I have to admit that I was always in a rush to get my work into the kiln. Sometimes I wasn’t watching what I was doing or became easily distracted. Traits that I honed in grade school carried over to my ceramic lessons.
Meg was the one who usually held the classes. She was very patient and often got me back on track with a few simple words or she’d give me "the look." I always felt that she took me under her wing and I, in turn, could make her laugh.
About once a month, I came home with my love offering. My mom, of course, made over the piece – telling me how beautiful it was. Then, she put my love offering in her china cabinet with some of her mother’s fine china. I always felt that was special – that my art and my grandmother’s art shared the same space.
As time went on, the china cabinet began to fill with more and more of my "art." There were cigarette ashtrays for my dad, a mug for my Grandpa Joe, endless tea rose vases, bunny figurines and even a statue of St. Elizabeth of Hungry. At one point I made a set of plates for my mom. Yes, over the years I loaded up that china cabinet. It wasn’t for years…I mean years later, that I found out that my love offerings were the butt of a family joke. They were so ugly that they were entombed in the china cabinet never to see the light of day.
But, the ceramic lessons went on. Meg and Lyn continued to not only teach us about ceramics and painting, they taught us how to conduct ourselves, to be kind to each other, to think before we speak. They did this without judgment or derision, for they were two very wise women. As I approached seventh grade, I even asked Meg to be my Confirmation sponsor. She readily agreed.
Later, as I was going into high school, the interest in my ceramic lessons began to wane…until one day, Meg announced that we were going to start on a special ceramic project – a Nativity scene! Now, I was all in! The Nativity figures we had at home were rather worn, chipped and faded. This would be my redemption!
It took us a year to complete – a fifteen piece Nativity set. During these lessons, I made myself pay attention, I kept on track, and… I learned how to paint! Luckily, Meg, with her steady hand – painted the faces and applied the gold trims to my Nativity set.
That next Christmas, my family put the old Nativity to rest and I proudly…I mean proudly put my Nativity into my Grandfather’s stable. The Christmas lights poured down onto the faces of the Holy Family as the angel shone with an angelic light. The shepherds and the animals crowded the space while the camels and the Three Wise Men, resplendent in their robes and highlighted with gold, waited in the wings until the Feast of the Epiphany.
Every Christmas since then, I proudly set my Nativity scene under our tree. After everyone is in bed, I lean down and give the music box a twist. I listen as the tiny bells once again ring out with Silent Night, as the Baby Jesus holds his little hands aloft. Mary and Joseph kneel as His side. The angel hanging from one of the branches has a message written in gold letters (in Meg’s own hand)– Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
Again I feel the spirit of Christmas. I am grateful that I had Meg and Lyn in my life to guide me, to laugh, and with a whole lot of patience…to recognize my artist within.