Saturday, December 2, 2006

Indulge Me?

After Christmas every year, among the trees at the chipper, it seems that there are always one or two tossed with the ornaments intact. That's completely foreign to me. I grew up in a home where Christmas ornaments had meaning, and such is the case with the ones I hung today. My mother and father both grew up in the teeth of the Great Depression. Needless to say, 'lavish' is not a word that would have described their childhood Christmases, and store-bought ornaments were seldom available. My mother told stories of corn husk dolls and socks stuffed with some fruit and nuts and maybe a little candy. I don't remember my father ever talking about a Christmas present he received as a child. So, when I was growing up, while Christmas was still simple, it was a very big deal. The "treat bags", (brown paper sacks filled with nuts, an apple, an orange, orange slice candy and chocolate drops and handed out by the deacons on the Sunday before Christmas only after the service was over) had their roots in a time when families had little, and the "treat" was about all there was to Christmas. If of course, "all" was measured by gifts. After the service, the deacons left to deliver treat bags to shut-ins. And I noticed that.

My two sisters and I each got Christmas ornaments in our stockings every year, and we would carefully write our names, "Ava", "Susie", or "Amy", on tiny pieces of paper, cover them with scotch tape and place them on the back of the ornaments that were then wrapped carefully in tissue and stored away until the next year. This was my mother's idea. She thought that it would keep down the arguments. It worked-sometimes. Those ornaments went with us when we established our own homes and found their way onto my tree tonight, as they always do. While some evoke memories of specific Christmases, they all create a sense of continuity and connectedness that helps make the holiday special.

After we were all grown, and took the Christmas ornaments with us, my mother had to solve the problem of decorating her own tree. She chose snowflakes, handmade by an older friend from church, made with a technique called tatting-intricate crochet-like stitching that was tedious and, in the end, beautiful. Her tree was covered in those snowflakes and mirrored balls, and it was beautiful! After she died in 2002, my sisters and I eventually split up those snowflakes, and about fifty ended up on my tree tonight. Those snowflakes remind me of that my mother valued the careful handwork of a friend far more than any fancy store-bought ornament. They also remind me of snows in those North Carolina mountains!

Another tree in our home (yes, there are too many ornaments for one tree, and they all have meaning and cannot stay in the box, and, yes, this does drive my husband nuts) is covered with the ornaments from my husband's childhood (the handmade wooden ornaments he made with his Aunt Berta) and with the ornaments we have given our own children as they grew up. Even my grown boys fuss about which Star Wars ornament belongs to whom. They did not heed my advice about the names on little pieces of paper, secured by tape.

Every year, these ornaments, like bookmarks, wait to tell a story and each reminds me, every year of my history, our history, and how we all got to be who we are. They remind me of the values my parents taught me: work hard, tell the truth, take care of each other, hold your head up and always remember where you came from.

1 comment:

Mrs. Righteous Jackass said...

What a beautiful post Amy! Every year I look forward to getting out the small, simple ornaments from my childhood and those that survived from my father's childhood. I value those more than any shiny new ornament from any fancy store.