As we wade into the magic and mysteries of 2016, I’m reminded how significant something small can be: a smile, a compliment, a helping hand, a hug.
Even an inanimate object can help ease our journey through time.
For instance, there’s a giraffe sitting on a bookshelf in our dining room. Just a simple, modernistic statuette, a small hunk of bronze mounted on a polished slab of mottled green-and-beige jasper stone.
Nevertheless, the representational sculpture, standing not quite 8 inches tall, seems statuesque in its artistic aura of dignity and overwhelming giraffe-ness.
For us, the little creature symbolizes so much more than metal and stone. It’s discovery and creativity, motivation, evolution, tenacity, inevitability, grief, loss and tragedy, survival, reincarnation and joy … wide-ranging emotions and memories, all wrapped up in one little sculpture of a giraffe.
Because of its back story, the statue constantly, gently reminds us to make the most of each day and enjoy as much as possible in every single moment.
Its story started 30 years ago. My mother was battling small-cell lung cancer, and doctors had told her she had three to six months to live.
Discovery: Mere weeks before Mom’s diagnosis, however, she, Husband Richard and I had become fascinated by rocks, gems and lapidary arts.
Creativity: He evolved into a master lapidary, cutting, shaping and polishing beautiful gems out of rough, often peculiar-looking hunks of rock.
I, in turn, began making lost-wax settings in which to mount the different stones my husband cut, ranging from opal to jasper, jade to malachite, tourmaline to slag glass.
(In lost-wax work, the artist carves or shapes the original out of varying textures of wax or other vanishing medium. Simplistically speaking, the finished carving is secured in a flask, encased in a high-tech plaster of Paris, then heated so hot that the wax literally burns out, or is “lost.” Pour molten metal into the cavity, let it cool, and remove the mold material. After some finish work, bingo! It’s a piece of art, you hope).
Evolution: Meanwhile my mom — a creative soul who had been an author and professional writer for her entire life — suddenly became a full-fledged sculptor of three-dimensional, tabletop artworks mounted on stone.
No one was more surprised than she was to discover her latent talent.
Her skill in the lost-wax medium, as with words, was in cutting to the chase. Soon after she began carving a sculpture, we could tell what the subject was going to be.
She was that good.
Motivation and tenacity: Three-month lifespan? Try three years. That’s how long Mom survived after her diagnosis, a time span we know was influenced greatly by an ever-growing list of animal sculptures she was determined to finish.
Inevitability, grief, loss: She completed 24 sculptures before she died in 1988. We will always miss her. But we had her sculptures and her writings to help smooth out the rough edges of pain.
Tragedy: Six years later, a huge fire destroyed our home. Among our most painful losses? The blaze melted or severely damaged nearly all my mom’s wonderful bronzes.
Reincarnation and joy: Later, we scrabbled through the wreckage, searching to find anything that might be salvageable. Suzy McDonald, then editor of The Cambrian, snapped a picture just as I dug out of a knee-high pile of ashes …
That photo ran on the paper’s front page. Whaddya know, Mom’s giraffe was famous!
The bronze was virtually unscathed, not as scruffy looking as were our other discoveries, which were caked with ashes, melted asphalt, dirt and who knows what else.
The giraffe’s jasper base had disintegrated in the fire. … Did you know a blazing hot inferno could destroy rocks? Me neither. But it did, even reducing big display pieces of amethyst geodes to handfuls of chalky, white dust.
But the giraffe was intact. Amazing.
Throughout the ordeal of retrieval, rebuilding and recovery, Mom’s giraffe was our symbol of surviving, the touchstone reminding us daily that, no matter how bad things seemed at the time, we, too, could persevere, survive, flourish and go on.
Small? Yes. Significant? You bet.
Happy 2016, everybody. May all your significant touchstones be survivors.
Kathe Tanner’s column runs every other week in The Cambrian. Email her at ktanner @the tribune news .com.