on meaningful gifts

Last year my dad’s wife encouraged him to convert several of his camcorder videos from the late ’80s/early 90’s to Dvd. For the past six months, I’ve been borrowing them and using bits and pieces in a few digital stories. I hope to do more with it in 2013. There isn’t that much footage, probably less than hour total, but what my dad did record is fascinating…and maybe a little bit embarrassing. I didn’t remember how obnoxious I was when I was 18. Wow.

One event that took up over half of one of the Dvds (12 out of 21 minutes), was Christmas 1992. 20 years ago. That’s a scary thought. Since I’m getting together with my sisters and their families (13 of us in all!) for Christmas next week, I wanted to create a digital moment out of some of the footage. The 12 minutes that my dad recorded (with a minute or two recorded by me), includes embarrassing footage of me being obnoxious (singing “let it snow,” hamming it up for the camera, being LOUD), awkward moments of my sisters feeling uncomfortable as my dad video-taped them, shots of my dog/my sister’s dog in a santa hat, and brief fragments of my mom expressing gratitude for gifts that she received.

Looking closely at the footage, I can imagine several different digital stories about holidays, traditions, family dynamics, and being obnoxious. For the digital moment that I created yesterday, I decided to focus on giving and receiving gifts. I was inspired by the revelation (for me, one of the more significant moments of this footage) that my sister Anne had given my mom—as gifts for Christmas and (probably) her birthday—many of the dragonflies that my mom had collected and that I had chosen to take as a memory of her after she died in 2009.

In a blog post on her birthday this past March, I reflected on how meaningful these dragonflies are for me and my memories/understandings of mom and her curious and playful spirit. As part of this reflection, I posted a poem that I found in one of her notebooks about dragonflies. Here’s her poem and some of what I wrote in that post:


Must you spoil my hours on the beach?
Just as I get my blanket straight
Wiggle my body into the accommodating sand
Comes movement like a spit-fire bomber
Zooming toward my head with the sound of a buzz saw
Swooping directly like a kamikaze pilot
And then instantly changing its course
Turning at a 90 degree angle toward the water.

Making me wonder about you dragonfly.

Sapphire blue wings of gossamer
Sprinkled with bits of glittering silver
Catching the sun like crystal mirrors
Ringing your wings like horned rimmed glasses
Around the delicate eyes of a sunbather.
Black, wormlike body directing your movements
Deliberately investigating creatures in your territory.

Pondering why your image sticks in my mind so long.

Crystalizing years after our close encounters
The intricacies of your insect nature
Finding that you are incredibly pleasing.
Recalling out of all of images of childhood
That of my beach time and your constant interruptions
Into my safe and secure world of dreams
Allowing me now the fun of investigation into your domain.

Realizing that it is indeed wonderful to be my age…

Now I actually thrill at learning about your unique jaw
And the playful nature of your buzzing and stunt pilot
Tricks which are really means of survival and territorial claims.
Not feeling ashamed but amazed by your water life
And stages of development and not least of all your
Incredible desire and instinct to eat the bane of
Minnesotan’s north wood’s life–the Mosquito!

Feeling gratitude for dragonfly antics on the beach.
Judy Puotinen
April, 1987

Wow, I love this poem and how it illustrates some of the qualities that I loved and valued most about my mom: wonder, curiosity, playfulness! How I deeply and desperately miss sitting beside her, maybe on the beach in the Keweenaw Peninsula, sharing in those qualities! This poem is especially valuable to me because it also speaks to my mom’s love of dragonflies. When my sisters and I were dividing up her stuff, I decided to take her dragonfly pin collection. I wasn’t quite sure why I picked it, but after discovering her poem in a random notebook, I know why. This poem and these pins enable me to bear witness (at least in memories) to my mom and her vibrant, joyful, creative/imaginative, always-questioning-and-wondering life. It’s nice to feel joy on her birthday, not just grief.

Part of my mom’s collection

It was a powerful revelation to learn that Anne had made a big contribution to my mom’s collection. Why? I’m not quite sure how to express it so I won’t try (at least, not right now). Instead I’ll just offer up the digital moment and my gratitude to Anne for giving such meaningful gifts to our mom.