by Pattie Garrett Pictured: Pearl Coffman Taylor (Pattie’s mom)
“If you don’t have what you need, need what you have”. I must have heard those words from my parents a gazillion times as I grew up. They came from large farming families in Arkansas, and neither one was allowed the luxury of graduating from high school. Dad finished 8th grade,
mom 10th, then it was time to help on the farms. Dad was a genius with his ability to envision the complexities of construction, and ultimately served as Construction Superintendent in Kansas City on some of its most beautiful churches and offices, then retiring as Director of Buildings and Grounds for the Lee’s Summit School District. At home, he never discarded a piece of wood, saving it then making a beautiful piece of furniture, toy or piece of art from it.
Mom stayed at home…she had no choice, she never learned to drive. She was extremely creative and imaginative. She made beautiful flowers from paper, designed and made all my clothes, cutting the patterns from brown paper, embellishing them with rhinestones, bows and belts.
She raised a huge garden, canned everything, and was forever creating something interesting from items she found. She and dad did not believe in wasting anything.
In their later years, they did beautiful leather work, dad studied silversmithing and made beautiful jewelry and ultimately, they discovered ceramics. They worked together to blend the slick, pour the molds, clean the greenware, paint with intricate care and fire their creations in their kiln. From them I learned so much…patience, persistence and the importance of
perfection of detail.
The winter of 1954 was hard for our family of 5. Dad was a journeyman carpenter. His union was on strike and had been for over 2 months. The amount of his pay was paltry at best, and it was mom’s canning that helped sustain us. But Christmas was coming. I never felt the need for a lot of toys, or even that we were basically “poor”. Our Christmases were small…usually a small gift or two, and candy, nuts and an orange in our stocking. But we had family time together with our Christmas tree and decorations. It was wonderful.
One thing did bother me, though. My friends were excited about the gifts they were bringing our teachers. I loved my teachers very much, but when I mentioned it to mother, she quietly told me we had no money for gifts. I was sad, but that last week before Christmas I was surprised. As I got off the school bus and walked the ¼ mile to my house, I saw mother among the dried corn stalks in the field where we raised corn for the animals. She was gathering shucks left behind. When I asked what she was doing, she just smiled and said, “I have an idea”.
A few days later, when I returned from school, 4 little turtle pins lay on the table in the living room. She had gathered the shucks, boiled them in bleach to turn them golden yellow, split them into tiny strands and braided them. After they were dry, she formed a little shell by forming a coil, then with tiny, tiny stitches, held it together and shaped it into a small dome. Other little braids formed the head, tail and feet. A pin was stitched underneath, then clear fingernail polish gave them a beautiful sheen. They were beautiful! I hugged her as she said, “Do you think these will do?” and eagerly took them to school the next day.
The teachers loved them, and even asked for more. At the Winter Carnival at school the next month, my heart fairly burst, when I saw Mrs. McDonald, the head of our PTA. She and her husband were the owners of Life-Like Lures (fishing lures). There, on the lapel of her full-length mink coat, was her signature plastic crawdad…and one of my mom’s little turtle pins.
So, this is what I learned from my parents. This is how they inspired me. Beauty can be found in all things, and all things can be made beautiful. I try to remember the lessons taught me…use imagination and creativity. Take the time to make it right. Don’t rush the details. Be persistent. If you don’t have what you need, need what you have….and fulfill your desire to create and leave a bit of yourself behind.
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