My family used to drive to Fredricksburg, Ohio to visit Great Grandpa. It was a pretty drive through trees and farms, and if Grandpa was driving, sometimes we’d stop for ice cream. Grandma liked to go to the cheese factory, and we got to watch a huge net of cheese curds as it was hoisted into the air, the smelly whey swirling around in the giant stainless steel vat. Grandma always bought a round of baby swiss. She seemed to think I was being somewhat less than genetically pure when I made a face and asked for aged swiss instead. “It’s a waste of money to pay for bigger holes!” Okay, I still don’t like baby swiss very much, but whether I like it or no, I’ve eaten a lot of it. Kind of feels like a family obligation.
I enjoyed looking at the barns on the drive to Great Grandpa’s house. Many of them had hex signs painted on them, and hex signs are the epitome of intention. It is art created for the purpose of bringing good things towards you, and repelling the negative. The art is made in a kind of code. For instance, a distelfink (bird) is good luck. Put 2 of them in your hex, and twice as much good luck. Green is growth, black is protection, and white purity. Many of these principles are also used in quilt designs. I may not have gotten the baby swiss gene, but I definitely got the one for hex painting. I love making them. I put one on the front of my house for extra luck and protection. I can never have too much of that, right? I painted it on slate taken off of Grandpa’s house when he got a new roof.
The area around Great Grandpa’s house was settled by people of mostly German extraction (Pennsylvania Dutch), and apparently those kinds of people like to paint things. There’s a quaint town nearby that has German looking mountain scenes painted all over the fronts of the buildings. Grandma and Grandpa took us there for lunch once.
It’s possible I like hex signs because I associate them with happy drives with my grandparents to see Great Grandpa. I adored him. He was smart and funny and held my hand. He showed me interesting things in and around his house, and gave me this majolica robin. I have treasured it throughout my life, not for the monetary value of it, or even for what it looks like. I value it because he gave it to me in a moment of sensitivity and closeness – and it didn’t hurt that he didn’t give anything to any of my siblings. I felt special.
When he died, my great aunt gave me this little bird at the funeral. It was part of a set of 3. My older sisters got the adult birds, but that was alright; I liked the chick best. Since I was too young at the time to really understand funerals, I thought this was a happy day, especially since it was my birthday. My siblings and cousins and I ran around and played. His coffin was filled with love gifts of flowers, a book, and even my brother’s pre-chewed gum. When the adults said things like he went “away”, I thought he was taking a trip and needed things to take with him. I’ve never quite stopped waiting for him to come back. I wonder if he had any idea how influential he was in my life?
I have to wonder a little about my intention with this post. There was a shooting at a school not too far away from me this week in a quaint little town a lot like Fredricksburg. A place where that kind of thing shouldn’t happen. I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about people who aren’t here any more and the craziness of the world, and thinking that it’s very nearly a year since my friend Geof died. Sometimes, maybe the best intention is not to forget. Whether it’s remembering hex signs or the people who really mattered.