Monday, February 20, 2017

Ella's Flowers

On a cold, sunless day in January, I took down the festive holiday garlands and tucked away the woodland ornaments. The house looked off-kilter, bare in some places and cluttered in others. I rearranged tabletops and pushed furniture from room to room. An hour later, as I surveyed the scratched floors, I knew what was wrong: I'd lost my decorating mojo. 

The Force had never been strong with me, but I had, at least, enjoyed tinkering. Now, I couldn't even do that. I felt like an old flashlight battery, the kind that wouldn't hold a charge. 
I began composing flat-lays and vignettes, fiddling with balance, texture, proportion, and color, figuring out what worked and what failed. 

With a childlike hope, I waited for inspiration to shine out of the darkness. But is creativity that simple?

My grandmother, Mimi, was the decorator in the family. "If you want to create something pretty, you must first be willing to create a heap of ugly," she used to say. Her design secret was simple: she told stories. She had a Hummel collection, and on a tiered table she arranged the figurines just so--the goose girl strolled by a boy with an umbrella, and I could almost hear her telling him not to be afraid of the storm, that it would pass. On the far wall, a library table held books and Italian pottery. A teacup collection blazed with color on the kitchen shelves, and china teapots were lined up in the cupboard. She loved bone china, Fiestaware, and anything with flowers. Opening her linen closet was a delight because each shelf resembled a garden, colorful yet orderly.

"When a room tells a tale," Mimi said, "it follows its own rules--and pays no attention to trends and styles." 
As I began to work, I told myself a story.

It's a sunny, 70 degree day in February. Ella wanders around her house, stopping in front of the Valentine's Day bouquet that her children had sent from the florist. Her babies are grown, living all over the world, doing this and that, but she can almost see them running through the field--Katie, her eldest girl, is a lawyer in Seattle and resembles a hydrangea, cheery and round faced, always thirsty for love; Bett, the middle girl, is a sous chef in San Diego. She's built like an iris--slender and upright, nervous and loud, her hair dyed purple and a ring in her dainty nose; and her boy, Jackson, is an historian in England, slump-shouldered like a tulip, afraid to look a person in the eye, but he knows everything there is to know about the Plantagenet kings.  
If she keeps her hands busy, she won't have time to think. She hurries outside, and her apron flies up, snapping in the breeze. Is winter really over? she wonders, bending closer to a budding spirea. If the temperature plummets, what will happen to her garden? Tiny, tender green leaves dot the hydrangeas and butterfly bushes. Well, she can't control nature. But she can put sheets over the bushes if a cold spell hits. She'll do what she can.  

On her way out of the garden, she stops by the shed. Soon she'll sweep away the cobwebs and gather her clay pots. She'll plant zinnia seeds. And by the door, she may put in a new lavender bed. She has gardened all her life--that's how she kept the family going after Renny died. Each summer, she ran a little vegetable stand out by the road, and, of course, she'd cleaned for Mrs. Jasper. But it was the garden that had sustained them. She remembers snapping beans, making blackberry jam, canning tomatoes. The decades flitted by so fast. Too fast.  One day, her babies were helping her shuck corn, and the next they were grown and gone. Yet they come back when Ella looks at her flowers.

As Mimi used to say, "Decorating mojo is overrated. Just tell a story." 

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  1. .....and what a sweet story that was. I too often say 'tell a story', especially if I am working with someone who is overwhelmed and can't understand why. "Tell yourself a story about the woman with four children, a full time job and a roof that needs replacing" I'll say, and it helps to put things into perspective.

  2. I will never look at a hydrangea the same way again...

  3. My granny loved her figurines and was my inspiration for decorating. Lovely story and amazing photos as always! Hop on over and share this beautiful post at AMAZE ME MONDAY!

  4. And you're the very best at telling stories!

  5. What a delightful post! I am well acquainted with the "heap of ugly." Your grandmother was sure right there.

  6. I so love this post---the gray days, certainly had sucked the life out of my mojo. We had some great weather, but know-in Chicagoland-that winter is far from over. Love this approach and your Grandmother and I would have a great cackle or two over this and that. Wonderful post, I will be a regular now, Sandi

  7. That was wonderful! You sure tell a story well! I visualized every moment. What a sweet way to remember people- shapes of flowers!

  8. What a terrific, imaginative post! I quite often create stories with my tablescapes (and tell them!), and we do the same with our vignettes at the antique mall. It's like playing house, for adults. :) Have a wonderful week. That bouquet is gorgeous.

  9. What a gorgeous vignette!! Love the story you added to it!

  10. I think we all felt this winter took a little from us. The cold one day the summer weather the next. I was in no rush to put away the"winter" decor. I still hoped for a little cool weather to be cozy by the fire with my books and magazines to look forward to spring and all the bright soft colors of spring.Living in the Deep South we are cheated out of the seasons that we see in all the books and all the new decorating magazines!! So yes I think we all hope we will still get our chance for something new, bright and pretty and still have our cozy place.

  11. Dear friend ( yes I call you friend) though we have never met, I feel as if I've known you for years, love your "writing's/books/blogs" , always just hanging on every word all the while visions old/New (memories) skipping through my mind.

  12. What a beautiful story and equally beautiful vignettes. I have so many collections, including Hummels, and there are stories with each one.

  13. I would have LOVED your grandmother!!!

  14. Oh, this is so awesome.

    You just made my day, ML - seriously. Thank you!