Thursday, November 26, 2009

What Dreams May Come

Three years ago I was reading a book about the imaginative illustrator, Tasha Tudor that my friend Jo-Ann loaned to me. It showed an illustrations of children putting on a marionette show of the nativity story. If you know Tasha Tudor, you’ll know that her depictions of children capture their earnest capacity for wonder. In the drawing, the children had turned an old dresser and mirror set into a stage by removing the mirror and replacing it with curtains. They stood on chairs behind it to dangle puppets as beautiful and wide-eyed as they were.
I had to try to make the same thing happen. In my heart, I could see the entire thing, knew just what to do and moreso that it must be done.  I also knew that this seemed pretty silly I knew from the beginning that it was a ridiculous, over-the-top idea, but for some reason, it was compelling to me.  I loved the idea of adults and children collaborating to tell this wonder-filled story.  When I had to return the book, I copied the drawing and pinned it to the wall in my work room where it haunted me. Unable to forget the idea, I mentioned it to Andrea.  To my surprise she thought it was a great idea and we got to work.

The first year we made Jesus, Mary and Joseph. When I make dolls, I get an idea in my head of what they should look like. In this case, I recalled paintings I’d seen by Fra Angelico and patterned the colors and look of the marionettes after his genius. This means that Mary has bright reddish gold hair, her clothes a blazing glory to her role. Joseph turned out to be tall, not as old as often pictured and with a trustworthy expression. Baby Jesus looks like my brother did as a baby (just as cute and adorable anyway).

Next we made a shepherd, his two children and an angel. Keeping with the Fra Angelico color scheme, I did something that my dear reader might find a bit scandalous. I used one of my son’s discarded pair of boxers. I had been washing these boxers for about eight years and now they were threadbare, but the blue and orange stripes were the perfect cheerful color scheme and the worn condition of the fabric seemed appropriate for a character who lives outside.

from left; shepherd children, Joseph, Baby Jesus, Mary, sheep, donkey and the shepherd with his striped coat
Andrea figured out the simplest hand motions for the puppets. She rigged the string so that with a tug, the shepherds’ hands would cover their faces and they’d look “sore afraid.” She fixed Mary so that her hands expressed that she was “treasuring things in her heart.”

Valerie painted two gorgeous backdrop scenes. One shows the starry night where the angel appeared to the shepherds. The midnight blue sky, full of stars looks cold and clear and full of hope. The view of the stable is glowing with warmth.

the angel knocked the faithful donkey over
Karl made us a simple stage that can be taken apart. We made curtains, Val decorated the outside. We got everything done just in time to perform for Andrea’s MOPS group (Mothers of Preschoolers) in early December. And the crowning touch was a gorgeous, stirring song Valerie wrote called “On the Way.” This song’s beauty and strength surprised me. It calls to the world in its troubles and promises that Jesus is “on the way.” I know I’m her mother, but this song sung by Val defines wonder and hope. Wait ‘til you hear it, you’ll be so happy.

We're rehearsing.  Last year Jack crawled inside the "theatre."  Now he's part of the production
So we performed our little script as Valerie sang her wonderful song before a room full of dear, attentive toddlers and their moms. That year, we also performed it for friends.

Since then, we’ve made an innkeeper who definitely looks nouveau riche from all his census business and Val painted the backdrop for the new scene. The father of a friend made a tiny crèche. We gave up trying to work the strings and switched to dowels painted black.  We’ve performed it for the children at church and again for friends. Joey crawled under the table to find his mommy and showed only slight interest.

Not this year. He wanted to “play” Joseph. 

I got the stage and the puppets out and when he came over I showed them to him. He loved them. We started acting out the story. Joey knew the entire script. When the shepherds had come to see the baby and had gone back to their sheep, Joey said, “Where are those kings?”

I was just making them. I hurried to finish. Two of them turned out well. For the frankinsense King, I repurposed a favorite scarf of my mother’s which had a large faded spot on it. It was not wearable, but now it will be treasured. I made the myrrh king look like the Bishop of Myra by using a lone, red Christmas sock. The third wise man turned out to be especially tall, so we’re calling him André.

We “performed” the play three or four times today, Thanksgiving Day. Joey did so well as “Joseph.” Jack’s role was to put baby Jesus (he insisted on calling the doll “Baby Clare.”) in the crib at the proper time. After the wise men came, Joey wanted to keep going, so we ad-libbed the “flight to Egypt.”

Jack performing his most important task.
Karlene, my friend from church who works in our Sunday School with Andrea and other dedicated teachers, is going to help our young people perform the nativity story using the marionettes on Christmas Eve for our congregation.  As my grandson would say, "You've got to see it!"

I want to thank my family for helping make this dream of mine come true. Who knows why we dream the things we do? But when our hearts and imaginations are captured, beautiful things can happen. Next year on Thanksgiving, I hope you’ll find even more of your dreams— big, small, insignificant or essential—have become reality.


  1. This is wonderful! You have some lucky grandchildren.

  2. This is so great- all of it. It meant so much to Ben and I to be able to spend a little time with all of you-- AND to see this beautiful dream of yours in the works!

  3. Thanks for describing what they look like. That is so important to this show because they are so bright and beautiful and anti-middle ages.