Less than six months after saying “I do,” I faced the biggest decision of married life: to take or not to take the Christmas ornaments I had been given nearly every year of my life.
I had no idea that my wedding vows should have added “to gladly bring all sorts of childhood paraphernalia into our humble abode” right after the “love, honor and cherish” part.
There’s the foam popcorn ball transformed into a Little Red Riding Hood snow lady head, a red scarf wrapping the ball. I have a heavenly host of assorted angels ready to take flight. There’s one red glass ball sprinkled with glitter letters that spell out “ChristiAnn,” a mouthful of a nickname that didn’t last beyond my fifth birthday. And dozens more.
I breezily decided to put off making a decision, which is why, 27 years, later my ornaments are still in the crawl space beneath the roof of my parents’ house.
When my brothers and I were really young and slept through the night, we went to bed Christmas Eve with the living room unadorned, except for a few candles and holly and stockings hung by the chimney. We awoke to a roomful of presents and a Christmas tree that, thanks to Santa and his elves, sprung up over night, complete with lights and tinsel, chains made of construction paper and boxes of ornaments.
Once we got a little older, the Christmas tree acquired all sorts of traditions. Colored lights, always. On top, a silver star that seemed crusted with jewels, thanks to dozens of pieces of illuminated, colored plastic. Icicles — those shimmering strips of silver — dangled from the branches. And, of course, the ornaments. Nestled in newspaper and tissue paper, unwrapping them was like unwinding memories and seeing how much we’d grown in the past year or two ... or 10. What was old became almost new. Year after year after year.
Over the years, the ornaments became the story of a family. First that of a young couple, who bought plastic bells filled with strands of fiberglass snow and little molded plastic lanterns to light even the darkest winter nights. Then came a girl followed by one boy and then another. Angels, baby dolls, trumpets and basketballs filled in the gaps and the holes.
My mom warned me a couple of years ago that she and my dad had decided the days of fresh-cut finger-pricking blue spruces and the kinder, gentler Frasier firs were over. My parents had gone all 20th century (even though it was 2005) and bought an artificial tree. Gasp!
But even after that, I have enjoyed the happy illusion that the Christmas tree at my parents’ house has been trimmed as if it were still 1970.
Make that one boy. Unlike me, my younger brother packed up all of his ornaments after he got married. His ceramic Snoopy playing a drum now beats a rhythm a couple of miles away. Where once there were two felt toy soldiers resplendent in tomato-red uniforms with gold thread trim and buttons the size of pen nubs keeping watch, one is now AWOL leaving the other a lone sentry pulling double duty. The wooden hobby horse with a rein of red string gallops in another corral.
Fine, I sniffed. More room for those that remain.
A couple of years ago, I noticed that lots of the “old” ornaments were nowhere to be seen. I just figured that the new artificial tree was a good two feet shorter than the floor-to-ceiling ones we had cut down all those years.
But this year I noticed that this tree looked like the one last year and the one the year before that. I realized that the one I’ve been seeing — or wanting to see — hasn’t been here for many years.
I confronted my mom and learned the truth. The bulk of the ornaments are in a big box in the attic. And they haven’t come out of that box for many years.
It makes sense. But those changes foreshadow bigger ones, ones that I don’t want to acknowledge, that are sure to come in the years ahead.
So, I’ve made a decision. Rather than be forced to pack things up at a time when it will be the last thing I want to do, I’m going to take my ornaments. My mom says I can haul them out next Thanksgiving, pack them up and take them home.
For now, I look and have decided to celebrate that which I see.
The colored bulbs have been replaced with strings of soft white lights. The star now shines with points of white.
I see where my popcorn lady hasn’t been relegated to the attic. I can see a snowman made of yarn with a black top hat and a funny elf with a yellow hat that belongs to my brother. And I just spied another snowman of yarn wearing blue-and-white striped dungarees that my younger brother left behind.
But so many other things no longer exist or are gone or have changed.
Much like my family. We’ve shrunk and grown and changed.
And even though it’s not what I grew up with all those years ago, it’s a beautiful thing to see.