January 27, 2015
I finally put away our Christmas decorations this past weekend. I’d wanted to take them down on January 9, the first weekend after Twelfth Night, but I yielded to pleas for “just one more week” from husband and daughter. Family obligations, work obligations, and a stack of higher priorities kept the Christmas tree standing and the wreath on my door past Martin Luther King Day. Meanwhile, mortification grew as my neighbors’ lights winked off for the season, and spruce and pine trees piled up on the sidewalks. A new neighbor dropped by to borrow the clicker for our apartment building’s garage. He raised his eyebrows at the wreath still up on January 22, and that sealed it: no matter how many other priorities and tasks had piled up, the Christmas decorations had to come down.
My daughter gathered all the angels and Santas from bookshelves and doorknobs, while I removed the ornaments from the tree. I’m very particular about how the ornaments come off and how they’re organized for packing, but my daughter complied with my sorting rules and we slowly stripped the tree together. I suppose most people have an ornament collection like mine: a mix of heirlooms and sentimental favorites, utilitarian red glass globes bought to fill in the bare patches, and a few head-scratchers, such as a plastic-bound photograph of my brother’s dog. The Santa made of two wooden spheres painted red, which belonged to my grandmother, and the translucent angel that glows when placed in front of tree lights are beloved. My angels are particularly precious, from the wooden ones that hung in a mobile over my crib, to the cloth ones with their stiff felt dresses, to the large, cartoonish, papier-mache girl in the yellow dress, who always rides at the top of the tree, just below the wicker star. Sometimes I look at the silly or the ugly ornaments and think I should toss them. One that migrated to the trash a year ago was a Styrofoam apple covered with orange thread and infested with a Santa-hat wearing fabric worm. It would have been cute if made by a kindergartner, but I made it when I was in the sixth or seventh grade. Despite hanging onto it for decades, I was ashamed of its lack of artistic merit, and when my husband and daughter mocked it, I decided it should retire to the city dump.
The Santa-worm apple was the only remnant I had of the ornaments my mother and I made together. Growing up, we had two trees—the fancy tree in the living room and the kids’ tree in the family room. On the living room tree hung the blown glass globes along with multitudes of Styrofoam balls covered with ribbons and beads. These came in kits, and my mother bought dozens of them and drafted her children, as well as her fifth grade class, into wrapping yards of ribbon around the balls and using beaded pins to decorate and hold down the fabric. The Santa-worm apple was a poor attempt at an improvised design, but many of the kit globes, and some my mother designed herself, were elaborate and beautiful, and I thought our living room tree the most elegant in the world.
When my brother and I grew up and left home, my mother divided the kids’ tree ornaments between us—hence angels and Santas, wooden and fabric, came to me. I don’t know what happened to the Styrofoam globes, though. My mother stopped putting up a Christmas tree years ago, and she never mentioned whether she gave the fancy tree ornaments to my brother or left them in a box in her garage. She passed away last year, shortly after she and I had had a falling out. Our last words were angry ones, and there was no chance for reconciliation. I regret not trying harder during that time, and this year as I sorted my angels and other heirlooms into their nest of packing peanuts, I missed the Santa-worm apple. And as the last stray hook crackled off the carpet into the vacuum, I realized I missed my mother too.
Thinking of you, Mom,
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