Take Time to Stop & Smell the Roses: Appreciating the little things
I am a breast cancer survivor. As I work on this Wire People collection, “Childhood Memories,” I am reminded that as terrible as breast cancer is, it can never take away your precious memories. This collection is dedicated to my mom and grandmother. My grandmother was diagnosed before I was born and passed away when I was a young girl. My mom received her diagnosis last summer at the age of 88 and is a strong fighter and woman of great faith. I want this series to be a tribute to all the women who have struggled through the nightmare of breast cancer— from those who bravely fought, and lost their battle, to those who are still pressing on for themselves and the ones they love. So, hidden in each sculpture is a tiny breast cancer ribbon symbol. The first piece is called Celebrate Life. Cancer made me appreciate the little things. I make sure I take life a little slower now—to stop and smell the roses, if you will. The air smells a little fresher, the sky seems a deeper blue, and the roses have a sweeter smell. Whether we’re eight or eighty, fighting cancer or cancer free, life is short. And beautiful. Appreciate it for all it’s worth.
My Grandma Ruby didn’t have a lot of money as she raised my mother and her two sisters and step-children in Pearisburg, a small town nestled in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. If her family was to have most anything, Grandma had to make it. From dolls’ clothes and furniture, to tablecloths to my mother’s feed sack dresses—Grandma crafted from necessity perhaps more than from a need to express herself. The few surviving pieces show a rugged utilitarian aesthetic, concealing a deep love of a mother for her daughter and a desire to provide both essentials and entertainment, even in the midst of want.
Throughout her life Grandma Ruby engaged in the arts and crafts, tatting well into her 90s. Even as dementia stole an increasing percentage of her faculties, she maintained her connection to creating things. One of the last things I was able to do with her, and for her, was to observe her hands move in a patterned rhythm as though she were pulling thread to create one last masterpiece, although her hands held nothing that you’d see. Taking a small loosely woven cloth, I pulled a few inches of yarn through several places in it and knotted the strands at both ends to prevent them from being pulled completely through. I gave that piece to my grandmother so she could actually feel the strings pulling through the material, perhaps giving her some comfort. But she didn’t take to it and in the end, a rough physical approximation was no match for the decades of creative memories she carried in her heart and head. When she passed in 2004, she left some treasured pieces of her work and a legacy of creativity and passion for arts and crafts in her children and her eight grandchildren, of which I am the second youngest.
What has been left for you that you treasure? What are you leaving for those who come after you?
My grandfather, Homer Blanton Umberger, was born and raised on the family farm in Wytheville, Virginia in 1897. The land had been given to his family as part of a land grant from the King of England many years before. My grandfather lived on that farm, the Reed Creek Poultry Farm, all his life. He married Margaret Dean and had one child, my mom, Marjorie Dean. She married my dad, Maitland Wassum. More than 120 years later, my mom and my brother’s family still live on that same farm today.
Growing up on the Reed Creek Poultry Farm, I guess I inherited my grandfather’s creative spirit and his love for animals. My family moved in when my grandmother got sick so that my mom could help take care of her. On the farm, we collected sap and made molasses. We made apple cider from the apples in the orchard. There were always baby animals of one kind or another. I got into a lot of trouble one day when I decided to let a whole bunch of baby ducks take a swim in my bathtub. Needless to say, mom was not happy.
My grandfather always gave me a space for my very own flower garden. Family and tradition ran deep and my love for all things creative grew along with everything else on the farm. There was a story to be told in every corner of that farm and my grandfather, well known in the area as a poet and artist, passed down many family stories through his poetry. He also developed a series of carvings from walnuts. These wonderful sculptures bring a smile to my face every time I see them and they remind me of the most important thing I learned from my grandfather: He loved to bring joy to people through his poetry and art and that’s my passion for my own work today.