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Feathering a Nest

Judyann Ackerman Grant

Nestled in her faded blue recliner with a green aluminum tray straddling her lap and a floor lamp casting a soft glow over her shoulder, thus ensconced, my mother filled many long, dark North Country nights, engrossed in her latest creative challenge. Early schooled in the art of multi-tasking, Mom worked on her craft projects while music from Lawrence Welk, Ed Sullivan, or the Loretta Young show hummed from the black-and-white television across the room.

After a full day of caring for home, husband, and five rambunctious children, Mom relaxed by engaging her hands in creative endeavors – aptly applying one of her favorite mottoes: "Idle hands are the Devil's workshop."

One year, in the early sixties, my mother received a membership in the Fad-of-the-Month Club. Each fad was guaranteed to become a "unique creation your family will treasure for years." Once a month, like clockwork, the mailman wedged a rectangular package inside our rural, metal mailbox. It was an exciting time in our household as mail was rare in those days and parcels were even rarer. Excitement rumbled through us, akin to a Christmas morning. We kids hovered around Mom as she spread the contents of the latest object d'art out on the kitchen table. We nosed through the tiny envelopes of beads and pins, cardboard templates, pieces of plastic and Styrofoam, bits of cotton and cloth, and shiny foil bags of glitter and glue – a mish-mash of supplies that awaited transformation into something greater than the sum of their parts.

Our home soon became a repository for bird nests tucked inside plastic fruit . . . imitation Faberge eggs . . . and sequin-studded Christmas ornaments.

Although I was unaware of it at the time, lessons beyond cutting and gluing, stitching, and staining were being instilled in my young heart.

Attaching hundreds of sequins to foam balls with half-inch straight pins, Mom demonstrated perseverance and finishing what one starts. No matter how tedious, she never gave up on a project.

atching Mom work, I learned to pay attention to details and follow directions, even the confusing ones. Doing so, without second guessing the fad's creator, guaranteed the finished project would look like the picture in the instruction booklet.

When the Fad-of-the-Month Club membership ran out, Mom went back to choosing her own projects. She made costume jewelry with seed beads and miniscule safety pins; she knitted sweaters, scarves, and hats; she crocheted doilies and bedspreads; she created wall hangings by gluing thousands of green and amber acrylic crystals into cord-lined, wine-bottle shapes. With latch-hook and yarn she created pillows, rugs, and framed art. She cranked out dozens of paint-by-number canvases of seascapes, landscapes, gardens, and the Good Shepherd.

Yet Mom's deeper desire, one that eluded me during my growing-up years, was the fine art of feathering her nest – creating a cozy haven for her fledglings to grow and a unique perch from which to try their wings. One by one my siblings left the nest; then, in 1971, it was my turn.

After graduating high school, I found employment as a typesetter at a small-town newspaper. My job was to input copy on a machine that punched it out in a code consisting of a series of round holes on narrow strips of beige paper tape; it looked like reverse Braille. I spent hours pounding out news articles and who-visited-whom columns and watching the paper punch-outs pile up and spill out of the little plastic storage box affixed to the side of the machine.

After a full day of typesetting, paper punch-outs were everywhere – in my hair, on my clothes, and stuck to the bottom of my shoes.

After the copy was set, I threaded the tape through a refrigerator-sized computer that converted the code to words and then spit galleys of type out on a roll of photographic paper.

Over the course of the next few months, I also learned to run the Compugraphic – a bulky machine that used lenses and filmstrips to create headlines – and to work in the darkroom shooting negatives and developing photo-mechanical transfers of pictures and logos.

When each weekly edition rolled off the press, I affixed address labels, sorted piles by zip code, then tied bailing twine around the bundles of papers and trudged them up the street to the post office.

At the ripe, know-it-all age of seventeen, being employed in the fast-paced world of publishing in a town of nearly two thousand people was a heady experience.

Though I continued to live with my parents, my horizons had broadened beyond hearth and home. There was a big world out there, and coming-of-age on the cusp of the burgeoning women's lib movement, I relegated homemaking to the ranks of the obsolete. Dedicating one's life to the care and nurture of a family was passé. Women were created for so much more, or so popular culture led me to believe.

Before too long, though, winds of change blew through my life. I had been at the newspaper office for four years when a printer's apprentice was hired. While he learned the ropes of running a print shop, I perfected my flirting skills.

In less time than it takes to say, "Time and tide wait for no man" – (another of Mom's favorite mottoes) – I became a carbon-copy of my mother. An autumn courtship was followed by a spring marriage. We purchased a small cottage on the wooded shores of North Pond, an inlet of Lake Ontario, and I went into homemaking overdrive – painting, decorating, and crafting knick-knacks for our little home.

Twenty-two years old and pregnant after seven months of marriage, I quit my high-profile, good-paying job. I traded in my sporty, apple red Mustang for a hefty blue station wagon. I knitted sweaters, booties and blankets for our baby, made polyester-stuffed toys and sewed curtains for the nursery. I devoted myself full-time to feathering a nest for my own family. And I never looked back.

Now, forty years later, I still can't sit down and just watch a television program. If I'm not reading, composing a story on my laptop, or catching up on emails, I'm working on my latest project – scrapbooking . . . hemming curtains . . . hand-stitching pillow covers . . . painting bird houses . . . re-covering the seats of garage sale chairs . . . or creating fabric-covered boxes to hold treasured memories. Fad-of-the-Month Club creators were right on target. Their simple crafts did become timeless treasures – but in a far greater way than transitory keepsakes. My mother planted an overwhelming love of home in my young heart, not with words, but with sequins, glitter, and glue. Lots of glue.