I’m pleased to be hosting the lovely Mary Neighbor as part of Rhonda Parrish’s Giftmas Blog Tour. I don’t think of myself as a crafty person—in either the sense of being sly or capable of arts and crafts—but writing is a craft. It’s sometimes easy to forget that.
I’ve got a strong urge to make gifts by hand this holiday season. Maybe I’m tired and turned off by cyber-this and virtual-that; I want something real and tangible. But there’s one big problem: I don’t do any crafts. As a teenager I made long paper chains made of folded bits of gum wrappers, but I don’t think that counts.
This acorn fell pretty far from the family tree, because my mother used to be very gifted and artistic. She could paint, sketch, and cut impressive silhouettes out of dark construction paper. I remember her handmade ornaments and decorations, and I have a strong suspicion she re-ordered some of our Christmas tree-hanging arrangements, late at night after we went to bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads, to make the tree more balanced and harmonious, to make it more beautiful.
One of my sisters sews beautiful quilts, but to my knowledge, she’s the only one of us who currently does handcrafted projects. So what about the rest of us? My other sister has a knack for keeping family stories alive, and she devotes great energy in keeping us all connected. My brothers have musical gifts and hysterical senses of humor and huge hearts that find expression through all the ways they reach out to me and say “I love you.” So maybe I don’t need a craft after all.
Of course, the holidays are all about family and close friends. As I think of my siblings, I’m left wondering what I contribute. I write, but I don’t write a lot of letters or emails. Months slip by before I pick up the phone. But I treasure my brothers and sisters, and I want to give something back for all the years of their love.
So I come back to writing, and a project comes to mind: an anthology of the genealogy data my mother collected before her death, family photos that I have digitized, and narratives that I can write about that genealogy, including additional history I’ve researched. My mother traced my father’s family back to the seventeenth century, so by Christmas I’ll probably only complete one chapter, of the first generation, but it’s a start. As with all my writing, getting started is the hard part. Once I get rolling, I know I can go the distance.
For Christmas 2015, I’ll print out the chapter as a newsletter and send it to them in binders, so that they can continue adding chapters as I complete them. And maybe by next year, I’ll be able to make all the chapters into a book, and then I’ll be able to say that I literally handcrafted their gifts. For now, I think they’ll be happy with the fact that this first chapter is heartcrafted.
Mary Neighbour is the author of Speak Right On: Conjuring the Slave Narrative of Dred Scott, a work of historical fiction that explores the story of Dred Scott and the history of slavery that has changed our cultural landscape. ABA Booklist described it as “nuances of slavery that provoke human emotions from nobility and loyalty to greed and selfishness,” and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said about it: “It’s a fine piece of fiction . . . reminiscent of Toni Morrison.”
Neighbour heard the voice of Dred Scott through the few quotes we have from him. She developed his character from researching the slave narratives and folklore of nineteenth-century America and of Africa. Through her book, Mary hopes to stimulate conversations about race and politics in our lives today. Please visit her blog and join the conversation.
And here’s a Giftmas offer for you, holiday reader:
This blog is part of a blog tour and raffle prizes, thanks to Rhonda Parrish’s blog site. Check out the complete list of prizes here http://bit.ly/1jkpUfa to win, or pick up your Rafflecopter code.