aside There Was Never Just a Hallmark Card

By: Marilyn L. Davis
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Update: December 3, 2016: My oldest reminded me of this post the other day when she asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  She assures me it won’t be a bathrobe, but darned if I can think of anything I need or want, and maybe that’s a good thing.

“One thing which I can’t stress enough is that OCD is completely nonsensical and will not listen to reason. This is one of the most frightening things about having it. I knew that to anyone I told, there are Salvador Dali paintings that make more sense.” ― Joe WellsTouch and Go Joe: An Adolescent’s Experience of OCD

Gifts – Required for the Holiday 

Christmas is fast approaching, so receiving gifts, flowers, candy and cards are excitant pour moi. Even dressing it up in French, I cannot make another large white terry cloth robe sound exciting. And I have reached the age where bathrobes are an acceptable gift. My daughters forget that they gave me one last year. I, on the other hand, do remember, and I do not need another. Just give me a gift card instead of another robe; I already have three.

This post is not about me being ungrateful; it’s about my Mom, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, gifts, and memories.

Although my Mom received help for her Creative Compulsive Disorder when I returned from substance abuse treatment, her condition was not diagnosed and went untreated when I was growing up. Each of these hobbies allowed my mother to create; her CCD forced her to create too much.

There was only one year where I liked the present I gave my Mom. I was 17 years old and working after school at my first job. I had my money to spend; I think that was the key. Other years, I was spending my parent’s money to get them a present. That Christmas, I bought an evening bag at an antique store. It cost me $100 in 1964, which was expensive, but I knew my Mom would like it.purse

Knowing that liking something often triggered my Mom’s need for more of the same, I questioned if buying this bag would then start another obsession. Giving gifts in our family was risky, we unknowingly might have created a new obsession, or we might get a gift back in a different creative form, so we had best like the gift we were giving

When Make-overs Multiply

My Dad gave my mother a make-over for the basement one year. She had multiple hobbies that seemed to be her priority rather than participation in our family. Because much of her behavior resulted in compulsive collections and hobbies, my sister and I marked our time by the Year of the Egg, Macramé, Quilt, Decoupage, Oil Painting, Watercolors, Appliqué, and Crochet. Our house resembled a well-stocked but disorganized craft store.

My Dad liked order. My Mom created clutter and sometimes, confusion. He had hired a contractor to convert the basement into work-space for my Mom’s hobbies. In anticipation of this make-over, he bought cardboard boxes a week before the transformation. He then went out of town on a business trip.

Falsely believing that he had contributed to order when he bought the boxes; my Mom instead saw this as just another opportunity to be creative. Years before the trend, she covered all of the boxes that Dad bought with fabric in coordinating prints for each family member, so the shelves in her workroom would have splashes of color. My sister and I had boxes covered in material from dresses made years before that somehow did not make it into a quilt. We talked about the memories these fabric swatches prompted while Mom wrapped the boxes in the fabric.

Although she sewed for my sister and me, she did not make clothes for Dad. Therefore, this required yet another trip to her favorite fabric store so that she could cover his boxes in “strong and manly” fabrics. Then she got out all the odd boxes stored in various closets; all filled with papers from our lives. Some of these papers were from my Dad; some were old colored pictures from my sister and I. She sorted and decided which would go into the newly decorated boxes, and others were piled for yet another project. We lived with piles of papers in the den for days.

We would talk about some of the papers as she sorted – the playbill she had made for our pretend Broadway show or a drawing my sister made at four or a science paper of mine where I made an A+ on a report. That did deserve to go into the new box since it was a fluke for me to make above a C in science.

When she decided that a pile was worthy of a fabric covered box, she still had to decide which box. Therefore, the decorated boxes competed for space in the den. By the end of the week, she had her system working, and one large, plain box filled with different papers that would start yet another project.

The Devil Is In The Details And Decoupage

Mom used the additional papers from Dad, my sister and I to decorate barn wood, Kleenex boxes, jewelry boxes, plaster casts that she made herself to get the shape and size exactly right, and one time, a chair from my room that I used at my desk. This project began the decoupage obsession. Decoupage is the art of decorating almost anything, covered by cutouts from magazines or purpose-manufactured papers, or our respective papers in the project box. She decided that torn pieces of several A+ English papers, along with inspirational images artfully applied to my chair, would provide inspiration to keep studying. Who knew it would take two months for the decoupage overhaul? She wanted my Dad to know how much she appreciated her workroom gift, so she made him decoupage eggs, decorated with chickens and sayings reminding him of their trip to Italy.

In case, you do not know how tedious decoupage is, it is a minimum 13-stage process. Here is the brief description of what you need.

bac2b-decoupage2bshopping2blist2b4Next, you have to cut out the designs, using tiny manicure scissors to be exact. Glue the image to the surface, then varnish each image, lightly sanding between each coat, as the object has to look inlaid or painted on, not just glued on. This edict to blend meant that my Mom typically varnished and sanded between 30 and 40 coats before she was satisfied with the result, so I am not surprised that I was without my chair for months.

When my Dad came home from his trip, he told her that he thought she would use the boxes to remove stuff from the house. She, of course, told him that she could not possibly part with such sentimental items and although she could not fit everything into the decorated boxes, she had found another creative outlet for the overflow.

Rarely were things that my Mom valued thrown away.

quilt pictureRemnants of cloth from sewing would eventually become a quilt, or fabric pictures. Extra yarn from crocheting became a macramé plant holder. Regardless of any project’s humble beginnings, all in their time became a part of a larger project. Understanding on some level that she bought too much or created too much, my Mom lovingly referred to all of these odd items as, Collections.

On Christmas day,  I gave my Mom her bag. She thought it was beautiful and started telling me about an upcoming formal occasion when she would use her new bag. She then wondered if the hall area between the guest room and my parent’s room could use a new display. She would like the contractor to give her an estimate on various sizes of shadow boxes. I knew then that my Mom and I would travel to antique stores in Atlanta, and she would get her new Collection. I had never helped her start one before.  However, it was not the last time I continued one. See that is the thing about collections, they must remain intact to be a Collection; otherwise, they are just a random piece of paper or an antique bag.

Collection Rules, Guidelines, and Order

“The good part about having a mental disorder is having a valid reason for all the stupid things we do because of a damaged prefrontal cortex. However, the best part is seeing someone completely sane do the exact same things, without a valid excuse. This is the great equalizer of God and his little gift for all us crazy people to enjoy.” ~Shannon L. Alder

bear-ornamentsThis coming Christmas, I need to remember that I have also created Collections and sometimes they were not for me, any more than some collections were for my Mom. When my daughter was pregnant with my first grandchild, Bailey, she made the mistake of telling me that she wanted a bear theme for Bailey’s room. I justified buying all kinds of bear accessories as this was my first grandchild.

For Bailey’s first Christmas at four months, she got a total of 65 various bear items – pictures, figurines, toy boxes, sheets and comforters, outfits, embroidered and needlepoint antique pillows – not for the crib, but the antique rocker, and with that justification, I think you probably get the point.

If you are wondering about that evening bag from 1964, well it is part of a wall display in my bedroom. It did become a Collection for my Mom, one that I inherited and continued. My youngest granddaughter, Emma, has expressed interest in the bags, but she is only eight, so we will see.

Understanding and Valuing the Gift

I learn something about myself and processing each time I write. Often, it is a reflection on the past and how it still influences today. I think I understand my daughter’s choice of the white terry bathrobe. Therefore, I may be my mother’s daughter, but I promise my daughters:

  1. 47b83-washcloth2bswanI will not cut up the bathrobe and make other Objects d’art – it’s so passe; think of your last hotel visit.
  2. I will not make it my signature piece and wear it compulsively when we go out.
  3. I will not start a Collection – the Neiman Marcus, or Bergdorf Goodman’s version of bathrobes.

Moreover, I will understand and be thankful for the cards, the flowers and that safe to give, white terry cloth robe.

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2 comments

  1. Interesting piece Marilyn. There can be a fine line between collecting and hoarding. One person’s collections are another’s idea of hoarding isn’t it? However, when compulsion takes over, then it is usually evident which one we are dealing with. It appears, at least from your article, that your Mom may have enjoyed the creative compulsions which came out of her disorder. If so, that was a blessing in the middle of OCD’s insidious grip. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your mother (and your family’s life). I am glad she decided to seek help later on in life.

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    • Hi, Terry. We didn’t have a word or diagnosis for Mom’s condition until I got into recovery, and then when we talked about her obsessions, she was open to therapy. I learned that she emotionally struggled with her conflict of doing versus being. Then I understood her better. I could stop rejecting myself and giving her creations more value than they deserved; it wasn’t a contest between me and a project anymore.

      Growing up, we were fortunate that my Dad could build rooms to accommodate the projects and people who cleaned so we didn’t look like an episode from Hoarders. Yes, calling something a collection sanitized the amount of things.

      I confess, books are my collections – but as one grandchild has pointed out – “Nana, you sure do have a lot of books.” Apples, oranges, and obsessions don’t fall too far from the tree I suppose.

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