Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - January 13, 2017

It speaks to me!

Between our holiday visits with husband Art’s relatives in Wisconsin, we took a few hours to peruse a nearby antique mall. I left with a peculiar treasure - a half gallon jar filled with various Christmas items. It had a few small bright balls, a hand-crocheted green snowflake, an old bird ornament with most of the paint worn off, some pinecones, a white and red porcelain napkin ring and a small plastic horse.

I’m not sure why I honed in on that jar in a shop filled top to bottom with furniture, dishes, hats, clothes, books and collectibles. Maybe it was the fact that it seemed to be a carefully-crafted selection of objects of different colors, textures and shapes. Or perhaps it reminded me of the tiny toys sister Gaila and I collected from Cracker Jacks boxes and gumball machines when we were little.

What I do know is the jar had some kind of pull on me. I picked it up and set it down several times. But before I knew it, I was carrying it around the mall, holding it close so I wouldn’t drop it.

On our way back to Kansas, we stopped by our friend Jo's place in southwestern Wisconsin. She also has an appreciation for such esoteric items and displays them in her home in such engaging and creative ways. We visited a couple of antique stores and in one, I pointed out a two-inch by three-inch black-and-white photo of a dog in a small gray frame. I could tell she was “taken” with it.

She hesitated and then said, “Oh, what the heck, for $4, I can afford it.”

I jokingly asked what she was going to name the dog.

“I can’t decide if he’s a Fred or a Thor.”

Then, after a short pause, “No, he’s a Fred!”

She put Fred on a corner bookshelf in her home next to a basket of red tomato pincushions, books of various vintages, white wax Santa figures she had made, family photos, a wooden bowl with green hedge apples and a lamp with a base made from an old crock. A matching set of bookshelves in the opposite corner contains several small American flags, a wooden bowl contains white and cream buttons and wooden trays of photos.

Her home is filled with these small tableaus constructed from an eclectic mix of items collected here and there. One bathroom has a number of large clock faces on the walls. The other has a collection of blue and white orange-marmalade jars, photos of people laughing next to the caption - “A laugh is the shortest distance between two people” - and a cross-stitched hand towel that suggests, “A little house, a garden plot, I’ll be content with what I’ve got.”

Everywhere I turn, her still-life displays tell stories. Some are related to her family, while others are things that just seem to strike a chord with her.

Our daughter Katie met Jo before I did. Jo was living in Chicago then and Katie remarked about her place, “You read about people who can decorate with things like that, but she really can do it!”

I feel the same about her current home, and her creativity has inspired me. Since meeting her, I’ve created little scenes inside and outside my own home. I use Uncle Bud’s crude handmade toolbox as a front-step display for mini pumpkins and acorns in the fall and pinecones and greenery in the winter. And I alternate between autumn flowers, poinsettias and spring bouquets in the large copper kettle my Grandpa Freeland made candy in during the Depression.

Another involved a silver tray my Mom received as a retirement gift. At first, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. The inscription on the bottom recognizing her 31 years of teaching meant no one outside the family would want it. But how could I use it?

Then it struck me. I put three chunky ivory candles, small white pumpkins, pinecones, old Christmas balls, greenery and a small custard bowl filled with cranberries on it. Voilá - a thing of beauty. I sent a picture to Gaila and she said, “That’s really nice! Martha Stewart kinda nice ...”

Sunday morning we bid farewell to Jo and commenced on our long journey home. We arrived well after dark, greeted by the welcoming sight of our lit Christmas tree, thanks to the thoughtfulness of daughter Mariya. Before falling into our welcoming bed, we put most things in their proper spot. An exception was my jar of this and that. It doesn't have a spot where it fits, but I'll find one for it. And every time it catches my eye, it will speak to me again and make me smile.

Left: the jar that "spoke to me" at the antique mall; right: with the temperature outside well below zero, we drew near the blazing fire while nibbling on Jo's colorful blueberry-strawberry skewers presented in a "strawberry" bowl on a silver platter.

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