Oma Sue's Blog
Hi – I’m Sue Reyzlik. I recently realized my life-long dream of building a writing hut in the backyard. The writing hut serves as a creative space and home office for Oma Publishing. This blog will be intermingled with family history, varied experiences and insights on being a Grandma (Oma), creating my special backyard space, as well as, my “retirement” career as a self-publisher of children’s stories. And perhaps a little bit on the 32 years I served as Executive Director for Keep Fremont Beautiful and the wonderful people who are sharing this adventure.
The Nativity Set
When I was a little girl, the Thanksgiving meal was prepared by Grandma Lil. We always gathered at her and Grandpa Joe’s house just a block south of the greenhouse. After the feast (and after 1956), the ladies would clean up, the men would retreat to the family room and watch football or nap on one of the three large couches or relax on one of recliners facing the huge console color television set.
Us kids would get out some toys or play games in the family room. Aunt Rose was usually excluded from the cleanup activities and instead was tasked with watching us kids. She told us stories, teach us card games or tell us our fortunes by reading our palms – Aunt Rose was always entertaining.
One year after the meal, Aunt Rose took us kids over to the old work room of the greenhouse to show us her nativity set project. She had taken over a corner of the design table and had molds lined up filled with plaster of paris. Several sets had already been removed from the molds and were ready to be decorated.
This was something new to me - red pliable plastic molds were sitting upside down and filled with white plaster. Aunt Rose picked one up and carefully peeled the red plastic from the plaster. As she peeled the red plastic from each blob of plaster, a character from the nativity was revealed. One was Mary, another Joseph and a little one was Jesus in a manger. There was an angel, a sheep, a cow, a donkey, a camel and each of the three Wise men. Several nativity sets had been made and were ready to be painted.
Paints were set up so us kids could decorate the figures. I thought I did a great job… but Aunt Rose favored brother Billy and his precision details… I think my painting style at the time, was much more indicative of the abstract style I would explore in later decades of artistic endeavors. My painting of the nativity was lively, expressive and definitely colorful.
I wasn’t content to just paint the sets, I wanted to pour the plaster and peel the forms. Aunt Rose showed me how to mix the plaster and pour it into the mold. I did my best - but was disappointed when I peeled back the plastic and Mary was missing much of her face… it was a large gaping hole with a portion of an eye on one side of her face and a bit of her lips present on the other side. She looked monstrous. The donkey had a thing going on with its ears – they were sort of gone – the plaster of paris didn’t quite reach all the recesses in the plastic forms. Jesus turned out fine, but I broke off a corner of the manger when I dropped him on the table.
The afternoon activity was completed, all too soon, and it was time to return to my Grandma Lil’s for left overs! Aunt Rose cleaned up the mess and took many of the unpainted forms with her to be completed at her leisure. I think the set my brother painted was displayed in her Sunday school class for a number of years. My fun, monstrous, irregular, colorful nativity set was proudly displayed on one of the colonnades that year for Christmas and then at the end of the Holiday Season simply disappeared.
A few years later my Aunt Rose traveled to the Holy Land. She had been planning, meticulously organizing this journey for years. She was giddy with anticipation and it was contagious – I knew this trip was a big deal.
My family drove Aunt Rose to the airport in Omaha for the first leg of her travels. Eppley was just a small building at that time, you could pull up and park right in front of the terminal.
After checking in, we walked my Aunt right out to the gate. We waited and watched her board the plane, saw the jet taxi to the runway and gently take off into the sky. I thought it was amazing. Aunt Rose had begun her long-awaited adventure and I couldn’t wait for her to get back and tell me all about it.
We returned a few weeks later to Eppley and collected Aunt Rose. She looked the same. But with more joy – she was happy. My brother and I wanted to know about the flight – she gave us details… sharing how she chewed gum to keep her ears from popping when taking off and landing… and she told us about the pyramids, the sphinx and even how she had ridden a camel. She was super excited to have her pictures developed. I was super excited to see the wondrous sights that she had described.
When we pulled up at the Pathfinder, she invited us to come in to the café for a dessert. I had a butterscotch sundae – I don’t remember what anyone else had – but my treat was wonderful. Aunt Rose continued her tales from the Holy Land. She had purchased a hand carved nativity set in Bethlehem and was anxious for my mother and I to see it. She didn’t have room to bring it back in her luggage but it would arrive in a few days. I would have to come visit her to see the set. She had gotten me a little gift that should arrive at the same time and she had bought a Persian rug that should be coming soon after that. This was exciting – pictures, a gift, a nativity set and a Persian rug (whatever that was). I couldn’t wait.
The Nativity Set and my gift were the first to arrive. Aunt Rose had bought me a small, intricately carved, mother of pearl box – I loved it. That little box adorned my dresser for the years my family lived on Military and then in Fontanelle. It came with me when I married and it survived the thirteen moves of my first marriage. The little box is with me still, some 60 years later, and is a precious memento from a dear great aunt.
The box the Nativity set was shipped in was soooo cool. It was a wooden box with a cardboard lid. That box was placed in a larger cardboard box surrounded in scrunched up packing paper. Each piece of the Nativity was wrapped in tissue paper.
Aunt Rose carefully unwrapped the wooden carvings and I genuinely ooooooo’ed and aaaaaaahhh’ed as each was revealed. It reminded me of the time Aunt Rose removed the nativity pieces from the molds. This set, however, was the most beautiful nativity set I had ever seen and Aunt Rose was delighted at my enthusiastic response.
A few years later, when Aunt Rose set sail on a voyage around the world, she gave me the Nativity set for safe keeping. She knew I liked it and she wanted me to have it, if something should happen to her. She returned safely a year later – it was a long trip! I always displayed the Nativity set at Christmas and she always attended our family gatherings. She never asked for the Nativity set to be returned. We all knew it belonged to Aunt Rose, but I was the caretaker of that particular souvenir and she was more than happy to visit it at our house during the holidays.
So, anyway – now to the Persian Rug. It took a couple of months for that to make its way to Nebraska. When it arrived, Aunt Rose called my Mother and was absolutely thrilled with how the rug looked in her apartment – the expense had been well worth it. She had placed the rug between her desk and her bed – it fit perfectly. She was amazed by the vibrant colors and astonished by how they changed as the sun traveled across the sky. She couldn’t wait for me to see it.
My Mom and I went to the Hotel a few days later to see this magnificent tapestry. I was truly awed by its beauty – Mom was a little less awestruck. Mom was kind and admired my Aunt’s prized acquisition from the Holy Land… but she would later tell me that she was disappointed that the rug was so small. She really thought that this rug was going to be huge from the level of my Aunt’s excitement and her admission that it was an extravagant and pricey acquisition.
I didn’t have any expectations concerning the size of this Persian Rug – I knew nothing other than it was a rug. So, I wasn’t disappointed – to me the rug was perfect. My Aunt wasn’t big on possessing a lot of things – and smaller was better. In many ways she was a minimalist - except earrings and purses – she had a lot of those. The rug didn’t need to be massive to remind my Aunt of her cherished time in the Holy Land. It just had to be big enough to bring a bit of the history, color and culture back home.
In later years, my Aunt gifted me the Persian rug. She was moving into assisted living and she wanted the rug to have a good home. I have it placed in the guest room where it doesn’t get much wear. It still has vibrant colors and they change as the sun drifts across the sky. The edging has come lose a bit but still looks pretty good for an old lady.
I’m reminded of these gifts from my Aunt because of the time of year. I went downstairs to retrieve the box that contained the Nativity set. Last year, I transferred the set to a new box as the old lid was deteriorating. It took me a minute to locate the set. I gently unwrapped each piece of the nativity and set them on the table behind the couch.
That process of unpacking each piece, reminded me of the day when Aunt Rose unpacked the set for the first time in her apartment in the Hotel Pathfinder… that made me think of the time we gathered around the old work table and watched my Aunt as she removed the plaster figures from the molds. I think I might have done a little ooooohing and aaaaahing in my head, as I unpacked and examined the carved figures from Bethlehem.
Yearly traditions and the unpacking of family heirlooms trigger all kinds of memories. Completing these simple tasks, take you back in time to the people you’ve loved, the special times you spent together and the joy, wisdom and adventure they brought to your life. The past few weeks have been a time of remembering Aunt Rose – thanks for going on this little journey down memory lane.
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