Believe it or not, some people think beaded skulls are a morbid or grotesque concept and cannot image why anyone would want such a thing in their house. However, all creation has beauty even after the life cycle ends. This Autumn Leaves story attempts to convey the perspective of the beauty and untamed elegance of beaded skulls. Enjoy!
It was a sunny, crisp autumn day in a small town in West Michigan. Mary walks out back to her husbands’ work garage leaving his favorite dinner, beef roast and red-skin potatoes to finish cooking. On the way the smells of the root beer scented sassafras leaves and a wood stove burning in the distance enhance her desire for a walk along the nearby nature trail. But not without her hardworking, yet stubborn-as-a-mule husband, Jim. She finds him working in the garage on the old car he found rusting away beside a barn. “Come on Jim, Honey, let’s take a walk toward the shore before dinner and watch the sunset over Lake Michigan.”
“I’m a little busy Mary, hey could you pass me that C-clamp while your here?”
“C-clamp?” She looked around at all the tools lying on the workbench and hanging neatly on the walls below his priced hunting mounts. “I haven’t a clue what a C-clamp is, Jim. Why do you spend so much time on this old rust bucket anyway? And surrounded by all these dead heads? It’s depressing out here and that car will never be what it once was.”
Jim stood up from bending over the engine, “Rust bucket?! Come on, Mary, Nellie here sat out in the elements for years to get that color. Mother Nature did that. It’s called patina. When I’m finished with her, she’ll run like a charm. And geez! Dead heads? Their called European and skull mounts. Have a little respect, will ya? You see them as dead; I see them as memories. It’s all a matter of perspective, Mary. Nellie may never be what she once was but I don’t want her to be. She’s already lived a full life, just like these bucks. I just want to give her, and them a second chance to show off their glory, just in a different way. And savor the memories they bring. You’re pretty pessimistic about the stuff I care about.”
Mary rolled her eyes. “Umm…okay, but you know the stuff you say you care about is junk and dead, right?” Before he could answer she finished, “You can come back to your rust bucket and dead heads after our walk and dinner. I’m making your favorite meal; you can come for a walk with me.”
Jim sighed, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders irritably he put away his tools, giving in though resentfully. They walked to the end of the cul-de-sac taking the path toward the lake. Mary walked with a spring in her step enjoying the colors of the autumn leaves and brisk breeze but she was fully aware of Jim sulking beside her, hands in his pockets, eyes focused on the ground. “Look around, Jim! Isn’t it beautiful?”
“What’s beautiful? I just feel the cold wind.”
“Oh, come on, it’s not cold and look at the Autumn leaves! Their colors are gorgeous!” as they reached the wooded trail, she scooped up a handful from the path tossing them into the air with delight.
“Just means I have to rake and it’s going to get cold and snow. And, Mary, you know they’re dead, right?”
Fully aware he was trying to use her words against her she buzzed her lips and replied, “They may be dead but they serve a purpose in nature and their colors are lovely. AND Mother Nature did that. THIS is Mother Nature’s patina!” She felt quite satisfied using his words on him. But he just buzzed his lips back, mocking her, still starring at the ground.
Determined to make her point she continued, “You don’t have a problem with the flowers and herbs from the gardens I cut and dry for arrangements and to flavor our food over the winter. They’re dead but are pretty and delicious.” He responded with a shrug of his shoulders and his brooding mood was infectious.
As they neared the lake the wind blew stronger through the trees and she felt the chill of it and Jim’s silence through her sweatshirt. “Come on, lets take the shortcut home. Your right, it’s getting chilly.”
Finally, Jim broke the silence, “The grapevine wreaths.”
“What about them?”, she replied puzzled.
“You dragged me out to that farm when somehow you found out they were pruning their grapevines because you and Sarah had a bug up your butts to try and make wreaths. They were going to burn them otherwise so you said you’d buy a whole bunch. But I found Nellie by the barn and when I said I’d buy her they gave you those vines free. You didn’t have a problem with Nellie then even though she was rusty. And those vines were dead but they’d served their purpose in nature and you two gave them a second chance plus you have great mother/daughter memories of making them that you both still talk about. They’re pretty too. The whole neighborhood wanted to buy them.” “Yes! That’s true and exactly what I’m talking about!”, she replied delighted that he had gotten her point to appreciate nature.
“Well, how’s that any different than David and I making father/son memories hunting those bucks? Me and our son spent years hunting these deer together! Especially that big fella. He was supposed to have a place of honor hanging in the living room over the fireplace, not out in my work shed. And he served a purpose in nature too you know. He was a mature deer and had plenty of time to pass on great genes and we all ate well that season. You didn’t have any problem eating the meat he gave us.”
Not expecting that comparison, she answered with a knee-jerk response, “Well, I like hamburger too but I don’t want a cow carcass in my living!”
Jim stopped in his tracks, wide-eyed with astonishment and frustration. “A carcass?!?! It’s a European mount, Mary. Don’t be so dramatic.” Knowing her response was a bit over the top she tried to better explain her perspective. “Okay, fine. I know you and David love those…things, that one in particular. I understand what you’re saying about the memories the two of you have attached to them. The grapevines may be dead but they’re pretty especially when we decorate them. But…I’m sorry, those skulls are just…ugly.”
“Well, then, make them pretty!”
“What? I mean, how am I supposed to do that?”
“I don’t know. You’re the creative one. How did you make dead vines pretty? Or make all that driftwood into artsy/crafty stuff? Maybe Sarah would have an idea.”
Now she stopped in her tracks. “You mean you’d let us decorate those dead heads?!”
He scowled at her, “If you’ll stop calling them dead heads, yes! If making him ‘pretty’ in your eyes means he can go over the fireplace, then yes. Just do it with respect.”
“Wait, what do you mean?”
He continued walking staring into the distance, “When I look at that buck, well all of them, I remember watching them, sometimes for years. Seeing what was or could have been their offspring, passing on them when they were still young, tracking them, the chase they gave. They all tell a story; of their life, their death, the meat they gave that supported our family. They’re not dead heads or carcasses to me. Putting them on the wall lets me give honor to them, for their life and sacrifice for us. I respect them and wish you could too.”
She watched his face as he spoke, hearing him explain in a way she’d never understood before.
Sensing her stare, he finished, “I just don’t want him covered in purple ribbon bows or something. I’d have a hard time respecting a buck covered in bows.”
She laughed out loud. “Okay, no purple bows.” Glancing at him sideways she jested, “Maybe pink bows!” He stopped with his mouth gapping and she laughed again, “I’m just kidding! I think I get in now. No bows and be respectful of how you feel about him…them.” He smiled, “Yes, thank you. Does that mean the big guy gets to go over the fireplace?”
She smiled back taking his arm, “Yes, and thank you.”
“For trusting me with something so important to you, and David. And giving me the opportunity to put my stamp on your treasure.” She took his arm, “Hey, after dinner how about I make a pot of coffee and we go out to your work garage together. I could take a closer look at that buck and maybe you could teach me about some of those wrenches and clamp thingies for Nellie.”
He stopped again, “You mean you’d help me work on my old rust bucket?”
She sighed deeply patting his arm, “That’s called patina, Jim.” They chuckled together and she continued, “Yes, I think I will. And thanks for helping to change my perspective a little.”
He looked into her eyes, patting her hand on his arm, “I’d like that.” He looked around before opening the door for her, “But maybe we should thank the Autumn leaves. By the way, you’re right, they are pretty. But not as pretty as you.” She gave him a gentle slug on the shoulder and a kiss as she stepped inside, “To the Autumn leaves then.”