There was one and only one fun thing about the holiday season in my house as a kid. It wasn’t Santa Claus (never heard of him/it until I was too old to believe in one). It wasn’t the decorated tree that I wasn’t allowed to touch, or the overall Italian version of Scrooge-mood that prevailed in the house.
Before I could take it in my own hands, the best thing about Christmas was my cousin, Yolanda.
She died a couple of years ago, and I’m left with wonderful memories of the cousin who made my Christmas merry.
Yolanda was an artist. Wow! Fifteen years older than me, Yolanda flew around the town with the flair of an independent young woman that I could only marvel at. I didn’t realize how unusual that was for a single woman in the fifties.
She worked in Boston, the big city, for Fredericks of Hollywood, arranging their window displays. She’d also do sketches of models wearing clothes and furs from other stores, and a few days later we’d see them in the newspaper.
Could any job be more glamorous?
This was her Christmas present to us every year: at some undetermined hour during the first two weeks in December, Yolanda would visit the homes of all her aunts, uncles, and cousins. We never knew when she’d come, but we’d each wake up one morning during that time to find our storm doors painted in holiday décor. Snowflakes, silver ornaments, red and green bells, golden candles, candy canes, wreaths and stockings—all had been carefully drawn all over the panes of glass.
We knew Yo had been there!
We figured she came in the middle of the night, but, after all, we were in bed by 8, so she might have come at 8:10!
I have many more memories of Yolanda. Her belly-laugh-funny quirk of putting things back into the boxes they came in after each use. Soap, for example! Toothpaste! Glue!
Yolanda married in her thirties (late for those days) and outlived her husband, a Boy Scouts of America exec, working well into her eighties.
That she was able to support herself as an artist was in itself a feat.
She had many accomplishments, like being the artist of record in towns in New York and Florida. This article appeared in the Finger Lakes Times when her work was put on permanent display in the Geneva, New York, City Hall.
But what I cherish most is that Yolanda gave me the gift of Christmas. I knew that she loved me enough to share her art and her delightful laugh at a time when laughs were hard to come by.
Many people will miss the artist Yolanda Fiorentino Schofield; I miss Yo.