THE THREE MATRIARCHS of my life were my mother Lois Virginia (Moland), my aunt Laura Ann (Sadler) and my aunt Wilma Elizabeth (Sherrill). Three sisters, three forces-of-nature, three strong-willed women. Three big-loving, free-thinking and infinitely-wise women. Three completions of the circle of life.
WITH THE PASSING of my Aunt Wilma last month, all three have now left this plane of existence. My mother led the way on July 10, 2005, my aunt Laura followed on February 16, 2007, and aunt Wilma on August 10, 2010. I'm sure wherever they are, they're still conducting their three-ring circus of life . . . the show must go on. They were sisters, but each led independent lives in concert with one another, from which our whole family learned and grew.
THIS TREE of life is dedicated to them. The tree is teeming with representatives of life. There's a tarnished glass glitter butterfly topping it all off: beaded flowers, pressed metal fish, leaves in skeleton form or wrapped around an orb, three dragonflies—distinctly different, a frog chasing a fly, and a snail ornament enliven this tree. Fitting as an ode to summer, the greens and yellows of the ornaments represent the warmness of the light that brings sustenance to all life (accented here by a wire surrounded sunface ornament). The three della Robbia-style wreath ornaments tied together with one ribbon represent the sisters and their connection to each other (as well as the riches gained by knowing them). The peculiar cadence brought to all that they encountered will live in every heartbeat, until we too complete the circle made from life, death and rebirth.
MY MOTHER left me with an unending sense of awe and wonder, that even finds a way to peek through in the lowest of moods. Somehow she is there, telling me yes (her last word to me), one more time. Yes, Darryl, it is worth it, yes, you will be OK, and yes! (leave me alone). I am a part of her, still living and breathing. I am carrying her wishes and dreams for me. Her memory is sometimes all that keeps me tracing circles in the sand, knowing full-well that the waves from the great womb of the ocean will rush ashore and erase them. So I will have to remember how they looked, how they were drawn and how they live after brushed from sight, much like a sand mandala is swept away after it is completed. It's the meditation that counts in bringing its energy into the world. And it is released once it is finished, holding no attachment to the material world, amplifying in its absence, life's transitory nature.
MY AUNT LAURA helped bring me through a certain catharsis after my mother's death in a somber, but adventurous trip. She had come to visit my mother when she was in her last days and I encouraged her to stay so she could attend her funeral, after which I would drive her back to her home. A highlight of our trip back to Virginia (need I say more about the irony of that since my mother was named Virginia?) was a tour of the Biltmore House and Gardens in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. Once we arrived at Laura's farm in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia, she showed me albums of old photographs, giving me a few of my mother and other family members. She told me stories relating her beliefs and gave me bits of her wisdom. She's the only person I've ever known that grew rhubarb in her garden, from which she made wonderful strawberry/rhubarb preserves every year. She was an avid gardener and loved to grow new things. She was a woman of the land.
MY AUNT WILMA was a deeply religious woman. The man who gave her eulogy told those of us there, that above all, Wilma wasn't afraid to shine her light. He was talking in particular about the light of her Christianity, but I know it as her light—pure and simple, unencumbered by the judgment and rules of her faith—just as she was. She saw the inherent good in people and accepted them just as they are. She was faithful, and she knew that love is unconditional. She did not feel she had to manage anyone's life but her own and those who saw that, learned by her example. That's a big sacrifice for some in the realm of the devout these days, but it is one that warrants a respect I give to those that lead by quiet example. It's not the easiest path to take, but it is ultimately the most effective. Modern society could do well with more of an acceptance of the things that cannot be changed. The Serenity Prayer was in full effect for my aunt Wilma's life:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
WHILE STOPPED with a front-row seat at a train crossing on the way to aunt Wilma's funeral, I had a sudden urge to begin taking photos of the graffiti painted on the train cars passing in front of me. This Christmas tree popped up like a beacon (look to the car at the far right and click on the photo once or twice to enlarge). In the midst of subdued graffiti chaos, topped by a star, it was a clear symbol that the three of them were conspiring again and sending me a message to keep on doing what I'm doing. They brought a decorated tree to me in the most unexpected of places and in the most unexpected form. I had to smile. So it is . . . the beginning of a new season of challenge and reward in finding my passion for this blog and wherever it might lead me. The track has been set.
NEVER TO BE predicted, these three matriarchs run circles around anyone else that has influenced my life. They showed me the importance of being true to yourself and believing in your place in the world. Just as I ordered actual old-fashioned wreaths of flowers for my mother and my aunt Laura for their funerals, and bought a new wreath for my Aunt Wilma a few years ago and put on her door for Christmas, the three wreaths combined on this tree represent their lives. Three sisters have shown me an unending circle of grace. And again, together, are sure to lay the track toward a future I won't be able to imagine. But as long as I have my eyes wide open, I'll be privy to what they want me to see, and know the direction to take.
TREE OF LIFE | (Above, top) This tree is teaming with life symbols from my collection of ornaments—from a butterfly to a frog chasing a fly. The della Robbia-style wreath ornaments, which I've connected by a single ribbon are from the 2008 Martha Stewart Collection at Macy's. Most of the varied, green and yellow ornaments are courtesy The Whitehurst Company.
TWO SISTERS | (Above, right) This photo was taken of my mother and my Aunt Laura (probably in their early twenties) by an unknown photographer. I just recently discovered this photo through Laura's daughter Martha.
AUNT WILMA | (Above, left) Wilma stands stoic beside her husband holding their first born, Janice. I think her smile in this photo has the same timeless mystery as the much-dissected Mona Lisa smile. Nevertheless, she could look at you and smile back at you with pure love and understanding.
DESTINY TRAIN | (Above, bottom) I took this photo en route to my Aunt Wilma's funeral this past August. Imagine my surprise when I was photographing the different graffiti-covered train cars when a spray-painted tree appeared. Who knew I'd be presented with a Christmas tree in such an odd place? I take it as a definite sign from Virginia, Laura and Wilma that I'm on the right track with this decorated tree project, whatever form it may take and wherever it may lead.
SHINING LIGHT | (Above) This wire surrounded sun face ornament has been a part of my collection for many years. It amplifies the golden light from the large yellow ornament positioned behind it— courtesy of The Whitehurst Company.
SHADOW DWELLERS | (Above) The snail and frog ornaments are from the 2009 West Elm holiday ornament collection. West Elm has had a whimsical collection of nature-inspired ornaments in store during the holiday season for several years. The antiqued French cache pot made from wood is the perfect holder for this late summer tree.
ABUNDANT WREATH | (Above) A detail of one of the three della Robbia-style wreath ornaments, which are from the 2008 Martha Stewart Collection at Macy's.
BEADED DRAGONFLY| (Above) A delicately-detailed handmade dragonfly was found at a shop in East Atlanta Village a number of years ago. It is made of beads both old and new.
BEADED FLOWER | (Above) A beaded flower ornament from my collection is made from wire-strung glass beads wrapped on a wire frame—a vibrant green homage to summer.
©2010 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
photography, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland;
antique photos of my mother and aunts are from the Weeks family collection,
antique photos of my mother and aunts are from the Weeks family collection,