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Piecework  Newsletter


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The Gift That Counts

Volume IX, Issue Four | December 2014

“What do you want to for Christmas?” Bob asked the other day.

“Maybe a fur coat, a diamond ring,” I replied. (Good luck with that.) He’s been generous over the years. There is a gorgeous Navajo rug hanging in my office that he once gave me for an anniversary present once. But we don’t spend a great deal on each other anymore. We don’t need much, and after the big move last year, we don’t want to start accumulating things–not that a diamond ring takes up much space.

But after thinking about his question, I started to remember the presents I’ve received over the years that mean the most to me. Last year, my childhood friend Karen sent me a Christmas ornament her mother had made. It is a tiny scene of a snowball fight set inside an eggshell. The shell is decorated with small pearls and other “jewels,” as well as silver rick-rack. I suppose the egg had been extracted through a hole in the shell, then the front of the shell cut away to provide a nesting place. Karen told me her mother made so many of these ornaments that her father complained about having to eat scrambled eggs every morning. I’d forgotten about the ornaments, but I remembered her Christmas tree. I think she was the first person I knew who had a flocked tree. The ornament will have a place on our tree for years to come, to remind me of when I was young and believed in the magic of Christmas.

One of the best presents Bob ever gave me was on my birthday two months after we married–a briefcase. You might not think that was romantic, but in fact it was a way of telling that he expected me to continue my career as a writer. Some 52 years ago, it wasn’t unusual for a husband to control his wife and forbid her from having a job. Bob wanted to make sure I knew he expected me to be more than his wife.

My favorite present from Forrest, my grandson, is a picture he drew when he was about seven, of a very strange-looking house with a series of pointed towers, his version of the Bride’s House. He wrote on it, “Sissy this is your favorite thing it is the haunted house.” That picture, with an updated version he drew for Bob a couple of years later, hang in the house. Right now, the pictures are valuable only to Bob and me, but some day, when Forrest becomes a famous artist…

Last year, Kendal gave me a photograph she’d taken of the Bride’s House before we bought it, showing the huge pine trees in front, the building dilapidated. And Dana gave me a funky sign with “The Chili Queen” painted on it by Simon, the French artist who’s made signs for half the shops in the New Orleans. Those are among my all-time favorites.

Mom wasn’t especially good at presents. But she did hit the jackpot on occasion. When I was in mid-20s, I came home to find a three-drawer walnut commode with carved handles sitting in the living room. It had belonged to Great Aunt Kate and was one of Mom’s few family heirlooms. She knew I loved it and that I was struggling at the time, and so she gave it to me. Another time, she gave me her silver coffee pot. She’d bought it during the Great Depression when we were living on the farm in Virginia. We didn’t have running water, and the electricity wasn’t reliable. The 800-square-foot house was heated with a wood-burning stove. As she told my sister, we weren’t poor; we just didn’t have money. Mom had saved up to buy that coffee pot, and it was special to her.

You can see where this is going. This is one of those Christmas essays about it’s not the price, it’s the thought that counts. But remembering back, I have to say that the gifts that have had the most meaning were not the ones that cost the most but those that were somehow special. Maybe it doesn’t hurt to say that again. —SD


Sandra Receives the Eleanor Gehres Award in a ceremony Sept. 17 at the Denver Public Library. The award is given for contributions to the library’s Western History Dept.

Sandra with former Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm, who spoke at the award ceremony.


Sandra’s Next Book Will Be About a Mountain Midwife

Sandra has signed a contract with St. Martin’s press for her next book, the story of a 19th century midwife in the Colorado mountains. The title is yet to be determined. The story was inspired by a poem written in Breckenridge, Colo., by poet Belle Turnbull, whom Sandra knew when she and Bob lived there 50 years ago. The poem reads

Never along that range is ease;

things are warped that are too near heaven.

She’ll tell you more about the book in an upcoming issue of Piecework.


Red Berries Wins Award

The year isn’t even out, but Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Skies has already won a 2014 award. The book has been named winner of the Children’s Fiction category for the 2014 USA Best Books Award. Red Berries is the story of a 12-year-old Japanese girl living in California who is sent with her family to an internment camp during World War II. Published in September, it is Sandra’s second mid-grade children’s book.


Sandra’s Picks

A Light in the Wilderness

By Jane Kirkpatrick. Revell.

Jane Kirkpatrick is one of my favorite authors. She writes novels based on the lives of real women. This time, she tackles a difficult subject for a white writer–the story of Letitia, a black woman who goes west in the mid-1800s as the companion of a white man, Davey Carson. Because interracial marriage is illegal, the two never wed, although they have children.

Letitia faces discrimination not only in her marriage but in her relations with others on the trail and later in Oregon. But her greatest worry is that if something happens to Davey, she and their children will end up with nothing. That, of course is unfair, since much of what they have is due to Letitia’s hard work.

Kirkpatrick tells the story with compassion and understanding, and Letitia is portrayed as a courageous woman although one with flaws. The book is free from the goody-goody stereotypes that often spoil such accounts by white writers.

Small Victories

By Anne Lamott. Riverhead Books.

You know I’m a sucker for anything Anne Lamott writes about faith. Small Victories may not be her best book, but it’s still a winner. Lamott could make you laugh over her grocery list.

Small Victories is a series of essays written over many years. They are about the minor things in life that give us strength. Like many of Lamott’s books, this one discusses forgiveness, which “is the hardest work we do,” she writes. Forgiving doesn’t mean you have to go on vacation with the person you’ve forgiven, she writes. And forgiving is good for you. When you don’t forgive, it’s like you’re drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.

The funniest essay is on her joining to find a boyfriend. She lists what middle-aged women are looking for, a list that (I won’t repeat it here) is so right on. Besides, she gives hope. If Anne Lamott–Anne Lamott!–joins, then just maybe it’s all right for you to join too. —SD


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