When I was little, I was enamoured with the Wade collectibles that came inside boxes of Red Rose tea. Some of you may remember the tiny ceramic creatures and people, their enchanting details and soft colours. My favourites were the nursery rhyme characters: The Queen of Hearts, Little Boy Blue, Little Miss Muffet, Jack and Jill (each with their sad faces and spilled bucket of water), Little Red Riding Hood, just to name a few.
My mom collected them for me, and seeing that what I loved most about them was playing make-believe and dreaming up elaborate fairy tales, she didn’t insist I keep them on shelves. She bought me a small plastic table. Its round brown top was patterned to look cushion-topped and its pedestal base was like gingerbread lace. A circle-shaped mirror from an old suitcase became a pond, and in the glow from my bedside lamp, the works became a magical land.
Many things about that memory stand out as important. My family struggled financially when I was small; my parents married young and had three children while putting my dad through school—which demanded moving a lot. I’m sure porcelain doodads were very low on my mom’s personal list of priorities, but she chose to assign value to something I wanted just because they were little and pretty. And she wasn’t the only one in my family to instil this notion that it was okay, was important even, to seek out moments of beauty or to collect trinkets, purely because they were lovely.
My Grandma Nora was the epitome of hard work and thrift. Orphaned young, enduring severe deprivation during the war, immigrating to England from Holland to work as a maid, she cut the paper off wherever she ended a note, so she could save and use however-small-the-remaining piece for another missive. She formed balls of salvaged elastic bands and aluminum foil to re-use. When soap bars grew too small to use, she kept the tiny slivers in a jar, so she could melt them down and make new ones. Yet she adored cut flowers and had small vases in surprising places. She adorned her letters with fanciful stickers. When she opened her own flower shop, she carried whimsical accessories.
When I became a young wife, both my mom and my grandma encouraged me to A) be frugal and try to live within my means, and to B) try to bring beauty to my home in small, inexpensive ways—not because it would make me a good wife or mother, but because it would bring me pleasure. One of the first gifts my mom gave me when I had a home of my own was a white wicker tray and a square of gorgeous floral-print fabric. Its Victorian-look card read simply, “For your tea, love Mom.” I still feel incredibly blessed, rich in every important way, when I set my table prettily.
But please don’t think my idea of beauty centres on things. My dad routinely encouraged us to “take time and smell the roses”—a cliché, yes, but one he meant literally. He took huge joy in flowers and plants. And when we were outside doing seemingly unending chores, he’d often pause to stretch and breathe deeply, then comment on the quality of the air, the colour of the sky, the beauty of the mountains.
One summer he and I were driving through the Cache Creek area. He loved the scenery, but I, ever appreciative of Terrace’s lush greenery, thought it was ugly. He was shocked, almost horrified, and said, “There’s beauty almost anywhere if you know how to look.”
We should all seek and create small moments of beauty and creature comfort—nice blankets, the mug that fits perfect in our hand, good food, pieces of art or pottery . . . They are tiny boons for our souls, comforting pleasures. And we should encourage those we love to appreciate—and see—the beauty in small things and everyday settings, too. Days always come when the ability to see some bright spark when everything at first seems grey and bleak is very important.
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1) What do you know? (Jan. 2016)