EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Except for stints as the lead singer in two bands about a dozen years ago, Rebecca VanWormer has never created art publicly.
And the 42-year-old local woman knows how precious time is.
That’s why efforts by VanWormer and eight other volunteers brought a holiday glow to Opal Myrick Park overnight Christmas Eve. The volunteers lined the six concrete paths leading from the gazebo at the center of the park with 200 holiday luminarias.
“Why not? It’s Christmas. Nobody does that around here. It’s easy, it’s inexpensive,” VanWormer said Thursday.
“I guess I am always up for a creative challenge,” she added. “It is just that not a lot of opportunities for it come my way. I mean, I worked in insurance. How often do you get a creative opportunity in insurance?”
Made of luminous plastic bracelets and small plastic bags of sand placed inside larger white bags, the luminaries cost VanWormer and her mother, Dorothy Roach of East Millinocket, about $90. The two placed the glowing bracelets inside the bags at 4 p.m. Thursday, about two hours after they and the other volunteers placed the bags along both sides of the paths.
Although they conceded the orange-ish cast from the park streetlights somewhat blunted the impact of the luminaria, VanWormer and Roach said they were pleased with the final product.
“It looks about like I expected,” VanWormer said. “I like it.”
“I am hoping it will put a smile on some faces,” Roach said. “There’s a phrase I heard awhile ago: If you meet somebody who doesn’t have a smile on their face, give them one of yours. I think this will do that.”
East Millinocket, VanWormer said, could use some cheering up. The town used to line Main Street with giant snowflakes and Santas on all the utility poles. That didn’t happen this holiday season, she said, and East Millinocket is a good community.
It may have been a project VanWormer would have delayed, but she doesn’t know how much time she has left.
She has terminal cancer.
Since VanWormer was diagnosed in September 2012, cancer has spread from her breasts to her liver and her brain. VanWormer just finished a round of chemotherapy 1½ weeks ago and isn’t due for more until Jan. 5, so she is not bogged down with chemo sickness, she said.
The project was good for her, her mother said, but it didn’t have much to do with her health.
“The only part that has my health involved in it is that I want to do it now before I am not able to do it,” VanWormer said.
“She does have her times when she’s like anybody else would be,” Roach said. “She has her moments when she is depressed and will cry at things that would not make her cry before, but she is very strong. Her spirits are good.”
VanWormer tries to be realistic with what she faces. She has, she said, “done the top 10 on my bucket list” — skydiving, hang gliding, whitewater rafting and visiting Ireland, among other things.
“When it was breast cancer, we were all of the opinion I was going to survive. Then in May 2015 it moved to my liver, and I think everyone knew then that it was terminal but no one told me until it moved to my brain,” she said.
“Like they say in ‘Braveheart’ death comes to us all. I am not really afraid of death. I am not too keen on dying, though,” VanWormer said.
It helps that she and her mother have fun together. The dominant characteristic to their interactions, Roach said, is laughter. Because of their ailments, VanWormer cannot reach too high over her shoulders and Roach cannot lift her head very high without getting dizzy, so their attempt several days ago at hanging Christmas lights was, they admit, challenging — to say the least.
“I said, ‘What a great team we make!’ We both got to laughing so hard,” Roach said.
And though they were satisfied with the project, they plan to improve on its flaws next year. Among the things to address include the bracelets’ glow fading after only a few hours and the white bags being made of paper — a less than ideal material in wet, windy weather, said VanWormer, who hopes their display will become a holiday tradition and lead to other such projects.
“We have to get them out of there tomorrow. Otherwise there will be a big mess,” VanWormer said. “Next year will be better.”
“If I’m here.”