What will happen to all those Christmas ornaments when I am gone?
The tree is finally decorated. We bought it five or six days ago and it has been sitting in a bucket of water awaiting installation in the living room. Then yesterday we set it into the stand, draped it with twinkling white lights and gold garland and gave the branches a day to relax before starting in with the decorations.
The system my Dear One and I follow is more relaxed than the one I remember from childhood. When we lived in Cleveland Heights, we all piled into the car and drove what seemed an intolerable distance to the Christmas tree lot, a place in the countryside where we could also buy wee gifties for our teachers. It was always night, I guess because the clocks had fallen back, Dad worked all day, and decorating the tree had to be done on the weekend.
I don’t actually remember that the event ever took place on a weekend, only that my father erected the tree, secured it in place, tested the old-style, screw-in lightbulbs, finding and replacing the ones that darkened the string. My mother supervised the trimming itself. There were precious family heirlooms that only she could handle and which were usually placed near the top. There were colorful glass balls, so fragile that a few inevitably smashed. When all that had been done we opened packages of tinsel. Ma insisted that each strand be hung carefully so that they formed a shimmering sheet of silver. No throwing. Ever. We did our best, but this kind of meticulous effort belongs to adults who actually care, and I have a sense that tinsel-draping was not something we kids did much of.
At some point we children received our first ornaments, I am not sure from whom. One was a glass mushroom with a tiny bunny inside. The second was a golden snowflake, a perimeter studded with tiny crystalline forms. I treasured those ornaments and hung them carefully each year. Then one year the mushroom broke. I saved the bunny, though, and still have it; she now suspends from a noose of black thread. My snowflake survived until the 1970s when it fell victim to the efficiency of my brother-in-law who helpfully denuded the tree one year and disposed of the piney carcass, failing to notice the delicate circlet that was hardly visible in the light of day. I was devastated.
One year Ma gave us each an ornament purchased on a trip out West. Mine was a little angel. Subsequent Christmases also included the gift of an ornament. Somewhere down the line we all followed suit. When my Tattooed Boy was born, pink of skin and free from markings, his collection got underway: a block, a miniature book with The Night Before Christmas, several whales that allude to his given name. His grandmother sent painted eggs, bamboo butterflies and beaded and embroidered trifles during the Christmases she and her husband Charlie lived in Beijing. The “Santa Head” that was a gift from Jim and Emily was shredded by our corgi or our cat or possible the two in collusion, and the Santa Head that I found to replace it reminds us of that story.
When my Dear One entered our lives I bought him a penguin on skis to hang on the Norfolk Island pine that served as his Christmas tree. Why a penguin? His preferred coffee cup was decorated with a penguin. After that, however, and every year since then, I have chosen a bird, or at least an ornament on some avian theme. For almost as long he has given me—and often the Tattooed Boy—an ornament too, and being his remarkable self has personalized each one and marked it with the date. This year it was a little donkey that commemorates the donkey on
Earlton Road I fed apples and photographed (and which, one day, was simply gone), the shaggy gray fellow who abides just down the road from Boordy Vineyards and the innumerable burros over which I have cooed and fussed.
My Dear One’s nest in their own box. My Tattooed Boy has an even larger carton filled with his collection; he even has a sheet of paper that identifies each and lists the year they were given as well as the name of the donor. My ornaments are mixed into the rest. I am not sure how many there are, well more than one hundred I regard as mine plus another forty that belong to the Tattooed Boy and then my Dear One’s twenty-seven birds.
I can look at each one and remember the moment it entered our home. There are the handmade foil ornaments produced by us children and tucked into the Christmas cards my parents sent out that year. A small wooden elf made in Germany came from Ma and was part of the treasured decorations that graced the top of our tree those many years ago. There is the glazed ceramic snowman Martha made to commemorate the new friendship that arrived with our firstborns. My aunt Doffy and I share a memory of a real mouse and knitted mice, mice sleeping in walnut shells, little furry mice, wooden mice and more remind me of that. My Tattooed Boy gilded a crabshell and filled it with a cottony landscape when we had just moved to Maryland and a lifetime later created a different ornament at a winter festival when he was in college. There are so many and each is my favorite.
One day, however, I will no longer hang them on the Christmas tree. One day I will be gone and they will lose their place in memory. Perhaps my Tattooed Boy will keep one or two. Perhaps I will have grandchildren who will select ones for their own collections. Will my beloved ornaments be sold on eBay or in a garage sale? Some may be beautiful enough and sufficiently unusual to attract the eye of a stranger. Most or even all may languish, boxed and forgotten, until someone simply tosses them.
I do not reflect on that moment. My Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has not yet offered me a glimpse of the future beyond my lifespan.