Thursday, December 31, 2015

Of Joy and Grief and Art

This holiday season has been wonderful.  I got everything finished on time (including a gift for Mona that I will share pictures of soon), our health is all relatively good, I got to perform some music with friends on Christmas Eve which is always nice, and despite the unseasonable nature of the balmy weather at least it's made all the driving easy.

Even work went unusually well.  I get people every year who want to buy a violin for someone to put under the tree as a surprise, and every year I talk people out of it saying that the player really needs to be able to choose a violin for him or herself.  (There are exceptions, but most of the time I can convince people that a smaller gift or card announcing that the player can go violin shopping is a better idea.)

A man came in last year whose young son was just starting violin and I pointed him in the direction of renting from the school to begin with to make sure his child actually liked playing and they weren't potentially stuck with a violin they didn't need (and I suspect couldn't easily afford).  This year he returned saying his son was working hard and loved playing and now they were ready to buy.  I suggested he bring the boy in on Christmas Eve where I let him try several student outfits.  It was lovely to watch him try different instruments and then light up when he came across the one that was a match.  The mom was beaming as her son didn't want to stop playing Christmas tunes on his new violin.  I assured them based on his age and situation that they wouldn't have to worry about an upgrade for several years, but explained what sort of maintenance they could expect when owning a violin, and told them to please pop in for checkups anytime.  I thanked the dad for his patience in trusting my advice, because I really do think it worked out for the best all around.  He agreed, and it was really satisfying.  It was not a big sale, but it was easily my favorite one this season.

We enjoyed a quiet Christmas morning at home.  I love watching my kids open gifts.  They never ask for anything, but they always like everything.  The big present this year was a new laptop for Aden, which is really a necessity for school and we found something good on sale that should last her for the next few years.  Before I left for my Christmas Eve gig I watched Aden struggling with her old laptop in the living room.  It has random issues and overheats and the kids have developed quirky habits for using it so that it doesn't lose all their homework at an inconvenient moment.  Aden smiled at me and said something along the lines of, "I think if I just remember to put it on its side when I get to this point it should be fine!"  She was completely willing work with the wonky laptop without complaint.  Made my night knowing that a new computer was waiting for her under the tree, and that she would truly appreciate it.

We made it to Detroit in time for Christmas dinner with my mom.  My kids are excellent travelers and were perfectly happy spending most of Christmas in the car.  My mom made us a beautiful meal and I loved having us gathered happily around the dining room table of my childhood.

Is that not the best looking cake?!  Totally worth the drive.
But this is my first time back to the house since my dad died.  It's strange.  The whole holiday season without my dad for the first time is strange.  Addressing a holiday card to just my mom about broke my heart.  Not buying a gift for my dad this year felt wrong.  Dad was always one of my easier people to shop for, because I could always find him something for his Beatles collection, or a new pair of scissors, or just make him something pretty out of wood that I knew he would display proudly on his desk.  This year I spotted things in stores he would have liked and then just left them there on the shelves.  That was surprisingly hard.  Grief is subtle sometimes.  It can sneak in at unexpected moments, and often needs to be brushed away due to sheer inconvenience.  That never feels right, and yet you do what you need to do.

A highlight of this visit to Detroit was our trip to the museum.  The Detroit Institute of Arts has a show up right now celebrating a half century of prints, photographs, and drawings acquired for the museum through an auxiliary print club.  One of my mom's watercolor and pencil works that the museum owns is in the show, as are a pair of wood engravings recently purchased in my father's memory.  To have both my parents' names up in the same show at the DIA was incredibly moving.

The drawing of my mother's is personally significant to me because it was inspired by a description I made to her years ago when I was living in Pennsylvania.  I was driving to school on a spectacular fall day and just couldn't bring myself to stop, so I kept driving up into the hills near the Appalachian Trail where the leaves on all the trees had turned yellow and were fluttering like confetti all around me.  I love that my mom took the idea of all that yellow and created something so remarkable.  I loved seeing so many people get the chance to enjoy her work at the museum, and for my kids to see their grandma in that context.

The prints purchased for my dad are by American artist Paul Landacre.  My dad would have loved to have seen them there with us.  I read through all the names of all the friends and relatives who donated funds to purchase those pieces for the museum at least twice.  It's a fitting tribute.

Being in the museum in general always brings back memories for me.  It's a special place, and one that I'm relieved the city hasn't squandered.  I took my kids into Rivera Court, and to see the mummies, and to see the suits of armor that I was always fascinated by.  I showed them the bronze donkey I used to sit on as a child when my dad worked in the print department.  (There are more important works in that museum, but in my mind whenever I play the game of getting to take one thing home I always take that donkey.  And yes, you are still allowed to touch it--but probably not sit on it anymore.)
Rivera Court

I don't think I've ever had such complicated feelings looking back on a particular year.  I think I'm fine to have 2015 behind me, though.  There is a lot lined up for 2016 to look forward to, so that's the direction I'd rather face.  But I sense my thoughts will return to this past year with greater frequency than I can picture wanting to do right now.  Right now, I just want to hug certain people, and many of the people I want to hug most are available today, so that's the plan.

Wishing everyone peace and joy in the new year.  May it be a good one.


  1. I loved reading this. My dad used to let me sit on that donkey too! I miss you and hope our paths cross in 2016. <3

    1. Love that donkey. Thought of both your parents as I walked my kids through the Egyptian and Middle Eastern displays. Definitely will try to coordinate our schedules next time I'm in NYC!

  2. Love the story of the family buying the violin! And the museum (and your parents' exhibits in them) sounds really neat too. What a fun thing to share with your kids! Happy New Year!!