But I like the paper ones…
Christmas is a time of unbridled nostalgia. It seems no matter where I go or what I do, something – a smell, a song, a show, a store – is triggering yuletide memories. If I’m not careful I can drift off to the North Pole for an extended stay.
Last night, we were decorating our Christmas tree – yes, late for us this year. Between sports, events, and travel it was next to impossible to get our family of 5 in the same room for the requisite amount of time to trim up the tannenbaum. And as most of you probably already know, there is no greater “nostalgia-trigger” known to man than a Christmas tree.
As we unboxed and unwrapped our ornaments I was transported back to my childhood and a tiny living room on 24 Plain Street.
My dad took some pride in our Christmas trees – always fresh cut, always (relatively) symmetrical. When it came time to hang the ornaments on the tree, we children (I was the youngest of 4) would line up dutifully and wait to be handed an ornament by Mom or Dad. Our parents would affix a hook and offer a suggestion to us.
“Christian, that’s a pretty one – make sure you hang it near a light so it sparkles”
“Now this one is heavy, so find a thick branch for it.”
We would dutifully comply.
Invariably, at the bottom of our ornament box my mother would find the crafts her children had made over the years. It was really shabby art-work, misshapen Christmas Trees, poorly painted Santas, crazed-angels with incongruent wings, and reindeer that looked like poodles. We are not a family of artistic talent. Over the years, we children would groan as our mother would announce who created each piece of “art.”
“Oh look at this reindeer (you mean rein-dog, don’t you Mom?) that Robbie did in 4th grade!” My oldest brother Rob would sheepishly claim ownership and responsibility for hanging Rudolph the Red-Nosed Greyhound.
We all took our turns claiming ownership for these creative atrocities: a construction paper Christmas Tree that looked like a rhombus (note to kids: a rhombus does not occur in nature – work on that); some kind of walnut shell with ribbons; a paper chain in gray and purple. Then she would produce the pièce de résistance: someone at some point in my family’s history had taken a paper cup and wrapped it with aluminum foil and called it a “Silver Bell.” To this day the argument rages as to who created this abysmal piece of holiday décor (judging by the age of the piece it certainly wasn’t the youngest kid; so I’m off the hook).
My mother would beam as she handed us these homemade trinkets; and of course, my dad would offer advice before we hung them on the tree:
“Around the back” (meaning – don’t put this hideous artwork where people can actually see it).
“Robbie, this one goes around the back”
“Michael, put this green rhombus…”
– “It’s a Christmas tree, Dad”
“..yah, yah – Christmas tree. Why don’t you put that around the back? The back needs some ornaments.”
And that’s how it went. We would giggle because even as youngsters, we knew – our paper ornaments were not good; and yes they probably should be around the back. Our Dad would laugh good-naturedly as we played along.
But Mom didn’t like Dad’s plan. She would say to my father, “Don’t say that – kids, hang those where I can see them!” Then she would glare at my father.
“I am only kidding,” he would protest as we kids drew straws on who would hang the Reynolds Wrap Silver Bell.
Then Mom would say, smiling brightly with moist eyes, “but I like the paper ones.”
Last night, we were finishing up hanging all the beautiful ornaments that we have bought over the years. We have some great ornaments that we have acquired on vacations or at special times and in special places. Then, we got to the final box of ornaments, still sealed.
My wife said cheerily, “that’s the box with the paper ornaments.”
My kids groaned.
As we sorted through the box we came across Santas with purple faces, a mutant red star that looked like a diseased crab, some green felt in the shape of something, and other hand-crafted treasures from our children’s young lives. There was even a rhombus (it must be genetic).
Our teenagers laughed and teased each other as they tried to deny accountability for certain pieces. Then they took these ornaments and tried to find places on that tree where they could hide the paper baby Jesus or the sparkly star, where no one would see.
My wife and I smiled as we watched them. But we treasured every mutant we pulled out of that ornament box. I think we probably had the exact same look on our faces that my Mom had on her face so many years ago – joy, sadness, a longing for the past and a love of the present all rolled up in one.
Then I said “Right up front!” I hung the red-construction-paper-Christmas-star-crab-thingy dead center and high; right where everyone can see it.
My son tried to protest, “No Dad, that can’t go there.”
“But Eli, I like the paper ones.”
Copyright © 2013 cjcheetham