I offer you another seasonal post, this one of which was first published on Ricochet eight Decembers ago. In fact, it was one of my first posts on the site, after I’d worked up the nerve–having been there for a couple of years, lurking and making the occasional tentative comment–to start writing my heart out. It’s probably the post that set the stage for the sort of writing that’s become (as some might say), my “thang”–comforting, kind, and gentle nostalgia and goodwill, wrapped up in family memories with a lavish dash of humor and a bit of genuine sentiment thrown in. I’ve reached an age where I think there’s not a thing wrong with any of that–in fact, I think the absence of memory, humor, affection, and goodwill in so many people’s lives and hearts is a bug, not a feature–so: no excuses. And, certainly, no apologies.
My very small family on this side of the pond has a tiny Christmas planned. There will be much love, much feasting, and many memories. And we’ll talk about our hopes for the future with at least one young person who’ll be shaking and baking it.
I’m (frankly) surprised that Governor Wolf (D-PA) hasn’t locked us down. Not that it would make much difference if he did. What a twerp he is.
The road to Christmas starts with getting the house properly dressed for the occasion (it’s a rustic house and looks its best when the decorations are up), and that starts with the tree. Lord. The tree. This year, I have a new (artificial) one. It’s about 10 feet tall, and I almost got a nosebleed putting the angel on top. I had to bring in the big stepladder from outside just so I could reach the top without some sort of untoward and highly comical incident.
Once the lights are on the tree (and they are) the rest of its decorating is a piece of cake, a doddle, as they say in the UK, and a bittersweet walk down memory lane. And although circumstances have changed a bit since my original invocation of these memories all those Christmases ago, the sentiment’s much the same.
I’m here by myself this year, so I invite you along with this story from Christmas Past.
Dateline: December 2013–Well, the Christmas tree at Chez She is finally up. It took a bit longer than usual this year, due to one thing and another (it seems that one thing, or the other, looms larger, and is more obstructive, for each year I grow older). But anyway, it’s done.
I like decorating the Christmas tree. Well, putting on the lights is a colossal PIA, and if anyone has a secret that fixes that, please do tell (no fair telling me to use a tree with the lights already attached. That’s just not cricket).
But, once the lights are on, I love getting out the decorations and putting them on.
You see, our decorations have been collected over the better part of forty years (with a few from long before that), and I love to remember, as I put them on the tree.
There are the remaining glass ornaments, with the ‘hand painted’ holly leaves on them, in a box that says they cost $4.99, that we bought for our first Christmas together, in nineteen-seventy-fump. That was the year we bought the $7 barrel-shaped Christmas tree from the sidewalk vendor in Pittsburgh’s South Side, because it was the only tree we could afford (I pass over the several years that we were reduced to stealing a tree, late Christmas Eve, from the piles dumped by the side of the road after everyone had gone home). Most of our other decorations that year were the cardboard ones we cut out, or punched out, from the Dover Books “Victorian Ornaments” edition. I still have those, too.
Then, there’s the little wooden soldier marionette that a graduate student gave to me in 1976. Claire was her name. She was from New York somewhere, and she was very bright, but a bit fragile. I guess I was one of the few people who was kind to her, during her first semester at Duquesne University, and she gave me a Christmas present. She didn’t come back in the New Year, and I don’t know what happened to her. But I remember her every time I decorate the tree.
There’s the angel that Connie, my co-worker gave me, when I was learning to be a customer support representative for a word processing company all the way back in 1981. And the many hand-made ornaments from Marge, the most creative person in Washington Hospital’s IT department, who must have spent weeks each December making each of her forty-odd (and I do mean odd) co-workers a special little gift. And many little wooly sheep, goats, and various other farm animal ornaments from friends and co-workers over the years.
The crocheted snowflakes that Andrea gave us, that first Christmas. A bit moth-eaten by now, it’s true, but lovely still. And the bit of 1940’s tinsel from my mother-in-law (it’s probably full of lead). And the pink rosebud blown glass ornament I bought one year just because it reminded me irresistibly of one on my grandmother’s tree, some fifty years ago.
The Christopher Radko United States Marine that my mother-in-law gave Mr. She the year before she died.
And the beautiful bit of frippery, a pretty bird in a cage of ribbons and feathers, that my stepdaughter gave us, one Christmas that she was a penurious student herself. As well as the ornaments made by my stepson, Michael–those ones where you put plastic beads in a mold and melt them into shape in the oven.
Other ornaments remind me of Michael, too. His nickname was ‘Moose,’ so we have several moose (meese?) on the tree. Soft, cuddly ones. Glass ones. Wooden ones. Ones made out of some material like a flue brush. We lost Michael in 2002, but he’s here every year for Christmas, which he loved.
Not to mention the little wooden ducks that remind me of my childhood. Actually, Mr. She would much prefer that I did not mention the little wooden ducks. So I won’t.
Still, my better self does love beautiful (expensive) handmade Christmas tree ornaments. And as the years have gone by, and as I’ve been able, I’ve bought quite a few. And I love them all.
But they don’t speak to me like the lumpy bits of plastic that don’t hang quite straight, or the finely crafted snowflakes with bits missing, or the cardboard circus animals with three remaining legs. I think it’s because like me, they’re not quite perfect, and they’re definitely showing their age. Or maybe it’s just because “I cannot but remember such things were that were most precious to me”–Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 3.
What’s your favorite Christmas decorating memory?