A Magic Box is what I use to keep the index cards and scraps of paper that hold my story ideas and pieces of brilliance that come up when I am writing. Plots, scenes, memories and themes. They are the thoughts that deserve some attention, just not in the moment that they arise. So I store them for later. On Mondays, I take a look inside one of my Magic Boxes-- I have three-- one on in my purse, on the night stand, one on my desk--and pick a piece of magic to write about and share. This week, I picked "Crepe Paper Flowers" And so I offer this:
Crepe Paper Flowers
They were crowding the bench on one side of the table and filling the chairs on the other side. I was afraid of them. Old people can be scary. Really old people can be downright terrifying. It seemed to me that their faces had too much skin, too many colors, aggressive veins. It also seemed to my eight-year-old sensibilities that they only came in two speeds-- too much, as in overly exuberant-- smiles too big, voices too loud-- or too little, as in catatonic. They all seemed a bit reticent about me, too.
I am not sure why my grandmother and I are at this nursing home. And I don't understand why all of the old people are coming to this room-- they are coming from all directions, on walkers, in wheelchairs, slow but determined. I am not, of course, at liberty to ask. I am a child and not allowed to question such things. But I am uncomfortable and already anxious to leave. My grandmother is busy opening boxes and moving the contents to the three tables where the nursing home residents are sitting. When she finishes disseminating the boxes, she calls me to her and holds out her hand. I grasped it. I need her hand.
"Good morning," my grandmother greets the now crowded room. "I am pleased to offer you today's craft project. "This is my granddaughter, Gina. She is my helper today."
And with this, my grandmother and I begin to show the mostly cooperative group how to create their own crepe paper flowers.
Crepe paper flowers are just one of the many things my grandmother taught me. I first learned how to make them on a mid-summer day. For my entire childhood, my grandmother lived close by, and in the summer, I spent long stretches of time at her house. Granny was always busy. And I was her sidekick. In the summer, when she wasn't running the children's program at church or directing the usher board, she was cooking, cleaning, sewing, learning a poem to perform with her sisters. She had three sisters and they lived walking distance from each other. And when my cousins were also visiting their grandparents, my grandaunts and uncles, we ran in a small pack throughout the neighborhood from one grandparent's house to the other. But mostly, I tagged along with my grandmother, happy to be her little helper.
On the day that I learned to make crepe paper flowers, we sat at her kitchen table and made a bunch in different beautiful colors- sky blue, deep fuchsia, vibrant yellow. Crepe paper flowers are so satisfying. They are easy to make, but the process is such that you can't really tell until the end if you'll get something that looks like a flower. First, you cut the crepe paper into rectangles and stack them. Then fold them in alternating directions and cinch the center of the paper with wire like you are making a fan. Even at this point, halfway through the process, it's hard to imagine how that rectangular fan is going to turn into a full and fluffy paper peony. But it always does. Honestly, as long as you are patient, it's hard to mess up a crepe paper flower.
On that same day, once I had mastered the steps, several flowers constructed, my grandmother asked me to pretend that she didn't know how to make the flowers. She wanted me to take her through the steps. So I showed her what to do. And when she finished, I clapped my hands in approval and put her creation in her hair behind her ear.
By the time we were finished, I was an expert-- I could make them swiftly and efficiently. We wrapped the wire with green floral tape to create a flower stem, so that when they were all held together, they looked like a vibrant bridal bouquet.
I thought my grandmother and I were just having a fun afternoon of crafting. But in fact, I was in training for this day at the nursing home. And this one day turned into several experiences in this same facility and a couple of others. We always made crepe paper flowers and we always found an appreciative crowd. Craft master and helper were on the nursing home craft circuit. My grandmother was kind and generous to the people who were her contemporaries. And I turned out to be a good assistant.
By the end of the summer, our class participants were not just scary old people anymore. They were Ms. Gladys, Ms. Mary and Ms. Phyllis, Mr. and Mrs. Paul. And we all got along just fine. I was able to help most, even the overly zealous Ms. Phyllis, even the utterly underwhelmed Mr. Paul. You don't need to speak in order to fluff out your flower. You might seem almost catatonic, but when your beautiful peony is tucked in your hair behind your ear, your eyes speak volumes. My grandmother explained to me that everyone probably thought I was scary, too, and just needed to get to know I was not one of those kids that only come in two speeds-- too much or too little. I saw her point.