Everybody has one, and everybody thinks theirs is best. And of course, they’d be right.
My memory tree–aka Christmas tree–is best for me because it’s just that, a collection of personal memories disguised as ornaments, diary notes on strings, biographical baubles significant only to me.
My current tree is slightly poignant in what it is lacking. When I moved and started a new life, many favorite ornaments were left behind in the mistaken notion that someone else would also appreciate them. The ones I couldn’t bear to part with came with me. This is the story of some of them.
The oddball on the tree, not quite fitting in with the others, is a cell phone replica. Pressing the message button results in a silly Santa voice babbling on about checking lists and feeding Rudolph. Ian would have loved it. He’s the son who died days before Christmas back in 2006, and the ornament is something I purchased in his memory when my daughter and I went cross country to clean out his apartment. My businessman son was never far from his cell phone, even on his infrequent visits home.
Hanging on a nearly frayed green ribbon is a bright red jingle bell, two inches across, that my daughter long ago hung around the neck of a much-loved lab, Magnum. I smile every time I hang it and remember long walks in the woods with that best of four-footed companions.
Red metal is echoed in three ornaments that are special only because I was so delighted to find them: a sleigh, a pot-bellied stove, and a treadle sewing machine. Clean lines and the bright primary color seem as old-fashioned as the items they represent to me, who loves to sew, loves horses and sleigh rides any time of year, and always wanted to live in a log cabin.
A brass rocking horse with a straw tail, the kind that would have delighted little boys in the days before computer games and technical gadgets, was a gift from my mother, a little “extra” she taped to the top of another present. I no longer remember what that present was, but I treasure this ornament because it was her acknowledgment of my ever-present affliction, horse fever.
A black moose on red fleece fabric is a remnant of the night shirts I made my sister and my daughter for Christmas one year. I was living in moose country at the time, which made the gift more personal, somehow. I made ornaments for all three of us from the fabric scraps, stuffing them with cotton balls for a 3-D effect. I wonder if Denise and Maria still have theirs.
More sewing memories linger around a gold filigreed ornament given to me long ago by my goddaughter, Becca, along with a dragonfly made of matching materials. I’ve always loved to sew, and I loved dragonflies before they became popular. Becca I’ve not heard from in years, but it’s her face I see as I hang those gifts.
A reminder of another of my long-held pastimes is the metal, larger-than-life Christmas postage stamp, proclaiming, at 20 cents, another economic era. It was a Hallmark ornament issued in 1994, but the stamp itself, portraying bundled children decorating an outdoor tree, was issued on Oct. 28, 1982, in Snow, Oklahoma. I still write lots of letters, but I pay a lot more to mail them.
A hammered metal Santa, like those made in Germany, I purchased at a favorite store in Duluth, Minn. It carried all kinds of unusual or imported items, and I loved this ornament for its simple, old-fashioned appeal. It was expensive for me, so I bought only one, and have treasured it ever since. I have other Santas, too, carved, painted, wood and resin–but none that actually look like St. Nicholas. I’ll have to remedy that.
Probably my oldest ornaments are the hand-sewn felt representations of Christ, called Chrismons, that I made in the very early 1970s, when my tree carried out that theme in white and gold. I made many of them in various shapes, but took only three with me: a gold fish, a gold cross and a white star. They are decorated with beads, sequins and ribbon, and represent hours of work, done even before my three children had become part of the family. Even today, they are a reminder to me that Christmas is above all about Christ.
My own ornaments have been joined by George’s collection, most of them musical instruments, tiny presents wrapped in music-print paper, sheet music of familiar carols, tiny silver bells topped with red ribbons, and glass “candy canes” from a pottery store where he once worked. Together, we’ve added ornaments from mutual friends, beagle-related reminders, and, most recently, the hand-carved wooden sled made in Au Train, Mich. (Not China!) We bought it in the town of Christmas during this past fall’s get-away trip to the Upper Peninsula.
Every year, we tell our ornaments’ stories to each other, and we add more. And every year, when the Christmas season is ended, we box up our colorful memories and carefully store them away until next year–when we will dust them off and repeat the stories all over again.
But my favorite part is sitting quietly in the living room, next to the tree, letting my glance fall first on one, then another–and remembering.