My mama carved sculptures first from homemade soap, and then while experimenting with a wide variety of rare woods and materials fetched by uncles and friends from around the world. These included cypress knees, a peculiar assortment of soft wood fetched all the way from the swamps of Florida.
Mama would rummage about and choose a knobby, odd-shaped stub from the box under the stairs and prop it up in a prominent spot, usually in the middle of the breakfast table. Then came the wait when she would sit and study the piece of bark-covered “boscoyo” or gaze at it from different vantage points while working in the kitchen. She’d be in the middle of stirring a pot of chili and the spoon would stop midway to the pan. Her cryptic smile indicated a discovery.
Even as young children, we knew Mama envisaged something magnificent, if not yet visible. Sometimes the stump sat in the middle of the table for weeks before she brought out the leather sleeve of carving tools. We children helped sketch ideas on scraps of paper. When guests stopped by, they too were welcome to weigh in with suggestions about what they saw in the raw specimen.
It was during the quiet hours of the late afternoon that we’d watch Mama take the piece, and feel its heft and balance, it’s unique grain. Setting it down again, and turning it this way and that, she’d frown in a deep ponder and rub her thumb across her bottom lip, an expression of patient intensity. Hidden within different pieces, Mama foresaw the Three Graces, also a Middle Eastern woman with a jug balanced on her head, and in another, an old cowboy with his spurred boots and lariat. In one of her earliest studies, she imagined a pair of hands folded in prayer, one hand a mother’s, the other a child’s. Only after careful study and sketching, did she set about carving each into the likeness she’d seen long before honing their true essence.
I’ve heard that when God looks upon us it is with that of mother’s loving gaze upon her child. I know that look. I have felt her similar gaze. Surely, my mama saw something I didn’t yet know. Her hands have rested upon my head, upon my shoulders. She’s carved away rough edges and untamed manners, rubbed away pain, and comforted heartache. Her dreams and aspirations, along with her prayers, still surround and shape my reality all these years later.