Art Keeps Us Alive

Nov 28, 2023 | Art

In my morning email I received an invite from the Little Traveler shoppe in Geneva, IL to come on out for this weekend’s Christmas Walk. This is one of my favorite holiday events because it takes place in the town where I grew up, you can buy chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and it never fails to catapult me into the Christmas spirit. There are carolers and candles and candy cane pulls and every year for the past 14 years I sit down on a folding chair in a highly pine scented room of the Little Traveler and sign the Christmas book that mother and I created together, Back to the Manger – A Treasure Hunt for the Nativity.

No doubt, I’m sentimentally attached to this book. My mother poured her artistic heart and soul into the oil painting illustrations that took her a year to complete, many of which required special magnification glasses to capture the tiniest detail. The story chronicles the journey of a woman in search of a lost nativity scene, a unique Italian Renaissance nativity which is now restored by the Field Museum in Chicago and on view at the Geneva History Museum on Third Street, Geneva.

Her painting of the Nativity as displayed by The Little Traveler
Mom’s adopted angel restored by The Field Museum, Chicago

When the book launched mother was alive and looking fabulous. Her beauty-parlor coiffed hair perfect, her advent purple suit impeccable and starry smile welcoming of every child who came to our table to peer into the pages of her artistry. She defined gracious and I was so proud of her. As the years past we continued to sit together at the book signing table, but her signature became shaky and her steps through the crowded rooms of the Little Traveler unsteady. I held her arm as I navigated her to our table and feared that when she went to the restroom she might get lost in the store and not come back. Sadly, the year arrived when she couldn’t leave her memory care center to sign our book and I sat at the table alone. It was like experiencing physical phantom pain, my co-creator no longer by my side.

Covid took her from us in May of 2020. She was weak but able to get to the window and put her hand up against the glass with mine matching hers on the other side. The last words we spoke to each other, “I love you.” I can still hear the earnest tone of her voice and see the tears filling her eyes. Covid stole much from all of us. 

Our last Christmas outing, 2019

Thankfully, mom was an artist and her art keeps her alive to us. I see her in the eyes of children who still come to peer into our pages every holiday season. Her commitment to beauty, detail and authenticity in her images remains. The warmth and elegance of her character so present, especially in her painting of the nativity scene once displayed in the Little Traveler and now on view at the Geneva History Museum. But also, her understanding of how even beautiful things break and fail us, “Angel wings turned to earth,” as it says in our story. 

On Friday evening when I take my seat at our book signing table for the 14th year, I’ll sign my name and hers as a living testimony that we will forever be co-creators.

A deep bow of thanks to the Little Traveler on Third Street for faithfully supporting our story and continuing the tradition of bringing a small community Christmas tale into new hands every season as the first snowflakes fly. 

The Little Traveler all dressed up for the holidays