Influence & Image

Today as I write this, I’m celebrating the 103th anniversary of my mother’s birth. I was in my late twenties when she died almost forty years ago; an age when I wasn’t old enough, or wise enough, to ask her the important questions about her life and its influence on me. Maybe that’s as it should be since it gives me, on random occasions, the opportunity to reflect on her influence, both passive and active. Even if it was unintentional, or she was unaware of it in the moment.

My brother and I inherited an estate from our parents influenced by Depression-era  deprivation and thrift. Let’s just say there was a lot of stuff to throw away even if it didn’t qualify for a hoarder’s reality show. Nevertheless, a lot of stuff from the only home I ever knew growing up came to live in the first home we owned. Over the years, bits and pieces have been given away, but a few cherished items have remained: a Victorian-era oak drop-front desk; her fine china – the most beautiful dishes I’ve ever seen; an aluminum turkey platter; her wooden sewing basket; two pair of scissors – my must-have-stranded-on-a-desert-island tools; an ornate porcelain chocolate set; a corn pitcher, several blue and white Chinese willow ware plates, a tiny ceramic English cottage given her by a New Zealand pen pal, and a Hummel of the nativity called Silent Night. 

Mother would not have been known for her sense of aesthetics, but the items she displayed on desktops and shelves, or filled built-in china cabinets with, awakened an aesthetic within me; an awareness of beauty, especially associated with hospitality. The gift from her distant pen pal awakened an awareness of a world beyond my own home, community, state and country while the ever-present Hummel awakened my  awareness of the silent presence of faith within my family home.

But she had a more profound aesthetic influence on me than she could have imagined or planned. At a tender age when little girls love eavesdropping on their mother’s conversations, I listened to her tell a friend after church she was struggling with whether to let my young teen older brother go on an out-of-town field trip. She said she’d been praying about it before the service began and when she looked up at the stained-glass window of Jesus surrounded by little children, He smiled at her and she knew it was OK to let him go! While I’m sure she wasn’t aware of what I’d heard, it, nonetheless, made an impression on me at the time, although I couldn’t say exactly why.

When I began to work with that long-ago memory years later, it held a gift of great freedom. Ordinarily, I am seldom at a loss for words, but had struggled for years with word driven prayer. In the process of writing my spiritual autobiography, I became aware that God in Jesus speaks most often to me through image. That image is likely fleshed out in word, but it begins as image. That’s why I think art is such an awesome, but overlooked, prayer form. I’m absolutely sure my mother had no idea how influential her over-heard conversation would be on my creative and spiritual life. If there were only one cherished item of my mother’s that I could kept, that would be it.

What are the cherished items you’ve kept after the loss of a loved one? Do they symbolize something significant in that person’s life? What influence have they represented in your life? Has God spoken to you through them? If you were to create a still life of cherished items, what would it include? And why?

Looking forward to your comments about influence and image.

PS – The painting above commemorates my mother’s 100th birthday. Incorporated in it are images of the stained-glass windows of the church I grew up in where I overheard her conversation that influenced my understanding of image as an expression of prayer.


7 comments to Influence & Image

  • My most cherished possession from my mom are 7 very ancient keys. I have felt prompted to give them to people on occasion, one key went to a loved pastor friend in Washington DC, I felt the message with that key was that humility was the key to DC. Another time I gave a key to a missionary to Sudan, feeling like it was a symbol that God was giving her access to North Africa.

    I am with you Lynne. God gives me image much more than words. I think it’s because even with the most precise languages, what God is saying to us, usually doesn’t completely fit in the box of our understanding. He is trying to teach us His language, not trying to be limited to our own.

  • Lynne, this comes to me on my 65th birthday, a little younger than your Mom would have been, but I am pleased to share this day with her and you.

    I agree, images speak volumes where words fail to reach me. My mom gave me a cut glass pitcher that belonged to my grandmother. I received it because it was breakable and I loved to handle it when I was little, much to the dismay of the adults in the house. It also was given to my grandmother by her best friend Anna Brandon. Whenever Anna called and I answered the phone at my grandmother’s she would ask if I was Mrs. McGillicutty (sp?) and we would have a good laugh. One time I beat her to the punch and asked her the question. It was hilarious. I think of it every time I see that pitcher with fresh-cut peonies from my yard. The same flowers my grandmother kept in it in the summer time. I can feel my grandmother’s hug, holding me tight against her well-endowed chest, and fleshy arms and feeling for the time like I was hidden from all that could hurt me.
    From my mom directly I have a bit of her artwork. Some she gave me as a gift, others that I found after she died and we searched through some of her things. It is bittersweet to see these, because Mom and I never shared our love for art together. Not like I do with Sara Blackburn, my daughter. But even in the lack of sharing, Mom taught me how important it is to share the aesthetics, that all consuming passion for something, with my family.
    God is somewhere in every piece of artwork I create. I feel closer to God when creating than at any other time, but I never, until I read your post, thought of my creating artwork as prayer to God. Thank you for that new insight! I will certainly enjoy it.

  • Deanna J Bowling

    First of all, I love what Fawn said, “I think it’s because even with the most precise languages, what God is saying to us usually doesn’t completely fit in the box of our understanding. He is trying to teach us His language, not trying to be limited to our own.”

    I am going to celebrate my birth father instead of my mother; to picture my dad (John) and his older brother (Stan), picture John Wayne as he played the lead in Quiet Man, putting his back out, while doing an interpretive dance, in costume. Yes, I come from it honestly. Actually it was my uncle who put his back out, but they were both on the same float, dressed in pink tutus – I do not lie – during one of our annual July 4th parades in Taft where I grew up.

    My dad would be 102 years old on this coming June 5th. He died when I was 23, from complications of a burst appendix. I only have one piece from him, part of a journal that he started the day that I was born. What I have that reminds me more of him are a pair of my baby shoes. My dad was a Sergeant Major in the Army Air Corps when I was born. As the story goes, my dad would take my high top shoes with him to the base where he served just outside of Taft, Gardner’s Field, and place them beside his shoes during his inspections. He would spend a lot of time polishing both pairs of the shoes for the inspection.

    My dad died doing what he loved to do. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, along with his brother Stanley. My dad progressed through the chairs of the lodge, becoming past worshipful master when I was 17. He became a DeMolay dad after standing down from worshipful master, in time to become my brother Jerry’s DeMolay dad. It was while he was DeMolay dad, that he collapsed while walking up the steps leading up to an auditorium in Bakersfield, to attend a combination talent show/fundraiser. He died about 5 days later.

    I remember my dad treating my like his princess from time to time. One of my favorite memories is of his waltzing me around our living room while I stood on his toes, when I was about 7 years old. He was quite the character, and I am only now beginning to appreciate he and my Uncle Stan, now that I am starting to come into my own. I miss them both very much, especially around my dad’s birthday.

  • Deanna J Bowling

    For as much as I like to write, grammer is not my gift. No, John Wayne did not do an interpretive dance in Quiet Man. I was referring more to his stature, than to the part that he played.

  • Michelle

    I loved this post, Lynne (and the several replies) and stopped in the middle of a busy morning at work to think about just one of the many items my mother cherished and left to me: a blue vase given to my mother in the early 1950s by a dear friend who died just a few years later. Every time I look at that vase, I remember my mother saying “Barbara gave that to me. I miss her every single day, what a wonderful friend she was.” I have a number of things my mother purchased and cherished, but this blue vase — with its connection to a person so dear to my mom’s heart — is a daily reminder about the endurance and blessing of friendship, even after those we love are gone.

  • Robin Rice

    I am a collector, the grand daughter and daughter who ended up with everything! Hard for me to get rid of these things, such a story they tell: grandmother’s old drivers licenses, Nana’s teaching certificate, the little glass animals my father won for my mother at a carnival, the candy dish I was allowed to take one piece from each time I visited Great-grandma Thompson.
    By far the best thing I ever kept was some old photos. My grandfather had two suitcases full of them, which no one else would take. I took them. Ten years later one of my cousins was lamenting that because her parents had divorced when she was quite young she didn’t have pictures of her father. “I think I have some” I was able to say, because my grandfather had kept even the pictures of ex-son-in laws. She was over joyed to get these pictures and I was happy that I hadn’t purged the suitcase, even though I didn’t know many of the people in the pictures.

  • Helen

    How this piece struck a chord in me. And yet it was not something that reminded me of a special person that came to mind but something that was never given! That something came to mind recently on what would have been my sister’s 58th birthday. She died very suddenly, and completely out of the blue almost six years ago. I have many things thar remind me of her but this is one she never received and I have never been able to bring myself to give it to anyone else or use it for myself. It stayed hidden away in it’s dusty bag until just the other day. My sister saw and fell in love with this little pot which makes a precious link to her as I begin to enjoy it’s company on my shelf. I was shopping with her the day she saw it and although I managed to buy it surreptitiously, ready for her next birthday, sadly it got put away too safely and I never gave it to her. She was a source of stability, comfort and encouragement to me for more than fifty years and her death left many happy memories but also a very painful hole in my life. I will always miss her but being able to unwrap the little pot at last has added a new, and oddly comforting link, to her presence in my life.

    Another birthday
    Another cake not baked
    Or iced
    Another gift not chosen
    Or given
    Another year not marked
    With candles
    Flames lit bright
    With laughter and love
    And I remember
    And I remember the last gift
    I never gave you
    For my mind
    Refused to recall
    Just what it was
    I had chosen
    And my memory
    Would not serve up
    It’s hiding place
    And months too late
    I found it
    And today I resolve
    To make of it
    A gift of remembrance
    And place it upon
    My shelf
    And love it
    As long time still
    I loved you
    And I will use it
    Without protest
    Except perhaps
    A spoonful of tears
    And I will enjoy it
    Just as you might have done
    Long years since
    If only I had remembered
    Where the honey pot
    Shaped like a daisy
    Was hiding
    Just as today
    I remember
    Without pausing for thought
    That you are
    Nowhere to be found
    Hidden forever
    From my life
    And my embrace

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