Our Lives: Recycled holiday fun

John Valentine.
John Valentine.

My youngest sister, Megan, is a maker. And a doer. Say the word “project,” and she is there, all over every part of the production.

She’s a loyal dynamo, a fence mender, a nurturing vegetable-garden bed builder. She has so much energy, she only allows herself one cup of half-strength coffee in the morning.

Her basement is a crafty girl’s dream – tools for every occasion, corners of metal objects, parts of old, donated machines (I’ve given her a few myself), pieces of interesting wood and the usual yarn remnant suspects.

Sometimes I think she keeps her corrals of majestic llamas and sweet, huge-headed donkeys just so she can shovel their manure into grand compost piles, ready for her annual neighborhood “poopathons.”

In her day job as a clinical trial AIDS researcher, she travels from Pittsboro to Durham and Africa. In her dented red pickup truck, she navigated all of the construction and expansion of once-rural 15/501, and that commute was a boon to her creative life, taking her past dozens of bulldozed debris piles on a daily basis.

Megan’s real calling is as a found-object sculptor. Where someone in a car sees a pushed-to-the-side, mud-covered, mangled road sign, someone with a truck sees the same object as a potential table or wall hanging or outdoor mobile. This is where Megan’s artistic vision shines.

Her neo-primitive artwork covers my outbuildings. She has re-engineered several dented, abandoned black-and-white wooden reflector yield signs. Though chipped and knotted, they wore their fashionable white blinking Christmas lights very well.

My chicken coop is decorated with a pallet-sized tableau featuring a red stop sign, a dotted line on a twinkling blacktop, and a pair of chickens thinking about, you guessed it, crossing the road. I need to get Meg to sign and date that piece. Our front yard has a 10-foot barrel stave mobile hanging from a dogwood tree. There’s a nearly crushed, peeling, discarded bright orange detour sign, with neatly drilled holes and Christmas lights of course, pointing the way on one of my daughter’s walls.

As the son of a psychology professor and a Roman Catholic project manager, my gaze is wide, and often inward. My parents wouldn’t have had it any other way. But I almost failed my little sister last summer.

For a few weeks I was in too deep, overwhelmed by the “shoulds” and unknowns. I needed some long hours of daylight that just weren’t showing themselves. Just then Megan called.

She had planned a wildlife boat cruise on Lake Jordan for all of us, a complete tour of eagle nests and inlets, lunch included. All we had to do was show up at the dock, wearing hats and sunscreen.

I had made other plans and desperately needed to get some things done. When I told her I just couldn’t go, that I didn’t have the time, she asserted through tears, “Johnny, this means a lot to me.” Then she hung up.

What was I thinking? Ten minutes later I called her back. Of course I was going to be on that pontoon boat. Take me to the land of the great blue herons and river otters.

This weekend renews our Annual Sister-Brother Christmas Morning Arrival Time Negotiations. I don’t mean when Santa arrives, I mean when Megan arrives. For years everything was cool. My girls whispered about whether Santa had come yet as the sun quietly rose and they tiptoed downstairs to pick up their stockings. We’re talking 6 a.m., just like your house, right?

Soon after that, Aunt Meg would show up, bearing her sleighload of colorful, generous unique gifts.

Fast forward 15 years. My daughters want to sleep in. Even the dogs want to sleep late at the bottom of my girls’ bed.

Aunt Meg, of course, wants to leave her Pittsboro home at dawn to be at our Hillsborough front door early. Thus, I must be the Christmas morning gatekeeper. But I love my daughters and my sisters, and we’ll come up with another Christmas compromise.

And so too, as with every previous year, I’ll be very curious about what new homemade primitive artwork of found sculpture will find its way under the tree. It means a lot to me.