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Sunday, December 15, 2013

On Christmas bazaars, ping pong tables and a pleading daughter

If you are reading this because the title intrigued you, you may be surprised to learn that this article is about Christmas ornaments. More specifically, it is about a woman, her dedication to the year-round crafting of such ornaments, and her grown daughter's desire to be the recipient of some of those creations.

Let me begin by introducing the woman herself (my Nana): Anne (Cowhey) McCue. When our story begins Anne is in her sixties and in ill health. She has raised her children to adulthood, though one still lives at home. She has more time on her hands than she has had for many years. Although she finds some days challenging because of her physical state, Anne has taken on a monumental task for herself: to design, craft, and sell loads of felt Christmas ornaments to raise money for the church bazaar at her parish: St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Massapequa (Long Island), New York.

Anne (Cowhey) McCue, 1978
Anne takes regular walks at the local mall, hiding a small sketchbook in her purse. Whenever she sees a character or other design that she thinks would make a good ornament, she takes a few minutes to sketch it, watching over her shoulder for clerks who might not appreciate her "stealing" an idea. She sketches figures of all kinds, including newly popular characters (this is before the age of the internet, so she can't go look Ziggy or the Hobbit up online when she decides to make them into felt ornaments).

Before too much of each year goes by, Anne's brainchild design ideas have been crafted into touchable felt ornaments. Where to store all these treasures while they await the annual parish bazaar? Her solution is her basement: on top of the ping pong tables that take up residence down there. Visiting grandchildren who love to play ping pong get ousted certain months of the year when the ornament population is high. The church bazaar takes precedence!

Speaking of visitors, one visitor and great admirer of Nana's ornaments is her eldest daughter. Whenever she is in town during peek ornament season, she enjoys taking the steps down into the basement to admire her mother's work. Walking around the ping pong tables, she admires the many characters, mentally choosing the ones she'd like for her own Christmas tree. But her wishes are in vain - her mother has dedicated herself to raising money for the church bazaar. Quantity counts, so the ornaments must remain in inventory!

Over the years, Anne's daughter is able to procure a very small collection of her mother's ornaments: sweet little winking mice, teddy bears, Santas, puppy dogs, even a Nativity ornament. Her collection, which is just a small sampling of her mother's work, is a family treasure enjoyed by herself and her children each year as they set up their Christmas tree many states away from Nana and her ornament workshop.

Anne McCue died in 1985 at the age of 71. Yet Nana is still fondly remembered in a special way each year at Christmas in my household and the households of other family members who were lucky enough to receive a few of her ornaments. When I unpack Santa (pictured above) each year, I can't help but think of Nana and wonder whose Christmas trees might also be graced by some of her handiwork and who might have benefitted from the church funds raised because of her valiant effort to fill a basement with Christmas cheer in the form of felt ornaments.

Nana with some of her larger hand-crafted friends

As Nana's eldest grandchild, I had the privilege of getting to know her better than many of my siblings or cousins. (Here I am with Nana and Mommy on my second birthday. Notice me eyeing the cake.)

Not only did I have the joy of getting to know Nana, but since I was old enough when she began making her famed Christmas ornaments, she spent some time teaching me how to make them. I made a handful of her designs with her help, and even created a few new ones myself. I still have some of Nana's unfinished ornaments in the box in which I keep my little treasured collection. Maybe someday I'll take up ornament-making again and finish the work she started. But I can't imagine filling up even one ping pong table-full (not without a team of little elves!).

This article is part of a series written in celebration of the Advent and Christmas seasons. It will be included as part of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2013, Day 9: Christmas Crafts and Day 15: Christmas Tree Decorations. For more Advent and Christmas memories here at Small-leaved Shamrock (going back to 2007), scroll through these articles or stop by my Pinterest page. Visit this preview for more details about the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories and to get some inspiration to get yourself in the holiday spirit!

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