I ventured out earlier today for a few groceries and supplies, then spent the last few hours curled up in the ridiculously poufy blue recliner. With a cozy blanket tossed across my lap, I've been poking holes into an orange using a medium-sized picture hanging nail. Then into each of those holes I've insert one whole clove. The trick is to get a good sense of the clove stem size and get those cloves as close to the surrounding inserted cloves so eventually, when the entire surface of the orange has been poked and cloved, you won't be able to see orange skin between the clove heads.
I started out in something of a seasonal funk, frustrated at my desperately low income, wondering how or if I'll be able to buy nice things for my loved ones, resentful of the television commercial people who are shopping and decorating and gifting and making wish-fulfilling memories with their pretend families whose outfits all complement one another. Something about the changes taking place in my own family have me examining others' families; watching them more closely for clues to reveal how these organizations are supposed to work when life gets complicated.
I suppose it was in that process of de-funking that I began thinking wistfully about what a lovely thing my family could be when I was a small child. Both my parents helped make the majority of the gifts they gave to other people, and if we were either good enough or whined enough to drive my parents up a wall, my older sister and I would be allowed to help. The years my dad put together the complicated ornament kits, I'd get to take one of the straight pins and painstakingly sort all the microscopic silver pearl beads from the rest of the pile. And then I'd sort all the white beads, and then the purple disks and on and on, whatever else required sorting, until each color and shape was fully contained in its own individual cereal bowl. Then we'd sit and watch our father thread two gold pearls, three red bugle beads, and three white pearl beads onto a straight pin which he'd then stick into a Styrofoam ball. And then another, and then hundreds more, until the Styrofoam was replaced with a fancy snowflake-looking creation that would be finished off with a velvet ribbon that would later enable the ornament to hang from the recipient's Christmas tree. I loved those gift-making times. I loved hanging out with my dad. We didn't even have to talk a lot; just sitting there, being allowed to hang quietly at his elbow and study the details of my father's hands - it was wildly rewarding enough.
There were the ornaments, there was impossibly intricate string art, there were handmade candles, there were glass containers filled with layers of colorful beans , there were the beading loom-made bracelets and choker-style necklaces, and there were cloved oranges.
The cloved oranges were my mother's specialty, though occasional my dad would lend a hand with ice pick duty. My parents' expectations of us were clear when I was young, and it was understood that we girls would be granted permission to use the pinprick sharp ice picks after a quick safety briefing, but if we were dumb enough to entertain ideas of poking holes in ourselves with them we'd have to deal with the stupidity fallout on our own, too. Fair enough. Soon enough we'd all laugh at our collectively sticky hands, and when the last orange was clove covered, Dad would macramé long slender braided rope hangers for the oranges to hang in. Our fingernails would carry the crisp scent of cloves for days after these present-making sessions.
Those memories, those connections, - that experience - is what I have decided I want to practice this year. I don't want to elbow strangers in malls, I don't want to have to swim in excess, I don't want to get so worried about giving gifts that are "good enough". I will give goodness. The things I will share with those I love will be things I have created with my own sticky clove-scented fingers.
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update: wouldn't it just figure, the first orange I'd been cloving turned mushy in one or two spots, including a rather large circumference around the top. While I worked on poking holes, etc. I had to be more and more careful about those mushy spots, but by the time I got to covering the remaining peek-a-boo areas of orange skin on its bottom, the top split open. Now my orange looks like an afro-covered Pac Man. I was crushed last night (orange crush? ha!) but it's not tragic enough to make me stop trying. Orange #2: I Mean It This Time will begin today.
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