Monthly Archives: December 2011

December 28 – The Pear

by Judy Whelley

On the first Christmas of my married life my mother gave me a small, obviously quite old, horsehair pear ornament. It was lovely, having that old but well-loved look about it. More precious still was the story she told. It was my grandmother’s gift to her for her first Christmas tree as a married woman. I felt a deep connection to this grandmother, having spent many hours with her as a child while my mother worked in the sewing factory. She died when I was thirteen so she never met my husband. Grandma was not a demonstrative or talkative woman so the tenderness of this gift to her daughter was unusual. I treasured the pear and from that year forward it was always the first ornament placed on the tree, a ritual connecting us as married women across three generations.

That experience, I believe, was the origin of a life long habit of treasuring ornaments with story.

I have a set of balsa wood cutouts with paper figures decoupaged on them from the first Christmas away from home. We moved so my husband could begin law school. We were poor and I was lonely. There were probably as many tears as there was glue in the paste.

When my son was born there came the traditional Baby’s First Christmas ornament. And each year after that I carefully chose one that represented his year: a Smurf the year he was obsessed with collecting the small figures, a small record with Bobby Sox dancers the year he and his god sister operated a 50’s restaurant in our living room. I think most mothers carefully preserve the reindeer antlers cut from construction paper in the shape of a small hand and the round ornament with that year’s school picture precariously glued to the side.

I cherish travel. There is an ornament for every trip we took, from camping to luxury travel in Europe. There are two “new home” balls, one from the starter house and one from the upgrade as our finances improved. Every December, as I opened each carefully wrapped ornament, I had the pleasure of remembering and recalling, an annual life review. When we divorced, I could no longer bear to hang the ornaments, too many memories.

My mother was only three years old when my grandmother was widowed after her husband was killed in a mining accident. My mother survived my dad by almost twenty years after his death from cancer and black lung disease. I’m no longer a married woman. I’m not a widow; I’m a divorcee. That changes the energy attached to the ornaments collected during my long marriage. Perhaps, one day, I’ll again enjoy reliving the story attached to them.

For now, my tree ornaments are pine cones and acorns, seeds representing rebirth, one owl for wisdom, and one horsehair pear for hope and love.

Judy Whelley lives and writes in Dayton, Ohio. You can blog with her at http://www.sensuouslysixty.blogspot.com

December 24 – Christmas Circa 1960

by Cathy Scibelli

Our family is gathered around our scraggly, tinsel-laden tree in our tiny living room. The stockings are hung by the cardboard chimney and the painted paper fire is glowing from the light of an orange bulb attached to the back of it.

The Christ Child is in the manger surrounded by a conglomeration of figures my mother has put together over the years, each one purchased from Lamston’s five-and-ten. There are about six Wise Men, ten angels and fifteen shepherds, along with two St. Josephs. (When my mother found a St. Joseph she liked more than the original one, the first St. Joseph was demoted to a shepherd.) Some pieces are plastic, some china. One angel is missing his nose and a camel has a chip that looks like one of the shepherds’ dogs has taken a bite out of his leg.

My sister and I are passed the stage of believing in Santa so my mother has put our gifts under the tree already. Almost all our presents come in the mail from the Sears catalog and clothing items arrive without gift boxes. My mother thinks it’s beyond ridiculous to pay for empty gift boxes so she wraps everything without a box. This makes it easy to take inventory of how many “fun” presents you have and how many are clothes. (Although sometimes you’re fooled–a semi-soft package with an interesting shape that you thought was a stuffed animal might turn out to be a pair of fuzzy bedroom slippers.)

My mother never asks for jewelry or perfume or fancy clothing. Raised on a farm in New England with eight kids during the Depression, she thinks it the height of luxury to receive gifts such as an electric knife or the latest mixer or, God help me, a new steam iron. We kids are hoping for Colorforms, board games, a stuffed animal. My father keeps shaking the gift I’ve proudly bought him with my allowance and says he can’t wait to find out what it is. (It’s a blue toothbrush.)

All is right in our world tonight.

Fast forward to Christmas 2011: The media and merchants tell us we need a perfectly shaped pre-lighted artificial tree, a Fontanini manger that costs more than my parents’ first car, and if we don’t have a real fireplace then we need an electric one with an artificial glowing fire that crackles like a real one. We need to forgo the Thanksgiving holiday to stand on-line waiting to grab the latest electronic wonder items for our kids, and then toss the keys to a new Lexus into a perfectly wrapped gift box for our spouse. Meanwhile, they ply us with ads for anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs to help us through the “stressful holiday period.”

Maybe it’s time to turn a deaf ear to these messages and return to the values we once had, realizing that the richest among us are not necessarily those who can afford to have the best holiday money can buy.

Cathy Scibelli is a Story Circle Network Star Blogger. A list of her published writing appears on her Facebook page she maintains a blog called The Iconic Muse.

December 20 – Christmas: A burden of the heart?

by Teresa Schreiber Werth

Sometimes Christmas feels like a burden of the heart. After the turkey carcass has been boiled, the bones picked and the soup is gone, I find myself crawling sheepishly into December, dreading all that must be done, missing family and friends that are gone and those I love who live far away. I don’t want to be a scrooge but the feelings overwhelm me and I am trapped…until “the Spirit of Christmas” finds a crack in my armor seeps in and saves me from myself. This year was no different.

I was “humbugging” along right on schedule, having rationalized and accepted that there would be minimal holiday decorations at our house this year. No Christmas tree? OK with me. I wasn’t at all happy with myself but I recognized the situation as normal (for me) and seemingly hopeless.

I had gone out to perform my weekly volunteer duties at Reach Out Radio where I read national and international news on our local PBS station, for the blind and visually impaired. As I was driving down our street, almost home, I could see from two houses away, that the Christmas tree was up and fully lit, in our living room. Bless the man that married me! I didn’t ask why he’d done it or how he knew that I couldn’t but, when I saw our tree, all beautiful and bright, the shiver I felt must have been the Spirit of Christmas seeping in. Close to tears, I came in the house and stood there, amazed and thankful. I actually felt as if I had to decorate it right then, and we did. I asked my husband to hang the evergreen garland around the front door and he did even better, stringing it with Christmas lights.

He got up in the closet and handed me the holiday Folkstone figures I have enjoyed collecting. I went to work on the mantel, then the entryway, the hexagonal window. Retrieving my six little button trees from the attic, I placed one in every room. What had seemed impossible a short time before was suddenly exciting and satisfying. The process of decking the halls had fixed my spirit.

I don’t want to spoil the magic by dissecting it, but I can’t help notice that finding the Christmas spirit had nothing to do with buying or wrapping, malls or catalogs, lists or sales. It was about someone performing a simple act of love. I recognized it instantly.

Perhaps Christmas seems like a heavy burden because we long for the impossible–a holiday like the ones we cherish in our memory, Christmases when we were younger and more innocent, when times were simpler and merriment seemed more attainable. Maybe we set ourselves up for disappointment by failing to live in the present, to recognize all the blessings around us in this time and place. All I know is Christmas is coming and I am ready.

Teresa Werth writes because she must. Ever since kindergarten, she has written poems, stories, songs and plays. Writing and revising words give her great joy A retired communications professional, she celebrates life daily, keeps busy making memories.

December 20 – The Long Green Thing Surprise

by Pat Bean

“Hey Mom, I brought back a surprise for you from Afghanistan,” was the message I got from my oldest son, D.C. I was in Idaho at the time, and the only thing I wanted from Afghanistan was my son, home, safely.

Later, I wondered what the surprise could be.

“It’s a long green thing,” my daughter-in-law, Cindi, hinted.

It took a few minutes, but then I burst out laughing.

“Oh, you mean his Christmas stocking,” I said.

This is a thing that goes back many, many years, back to the time when my son was a pre-teenager. It was a time when money was in extremely short supply in our family, and so our Christmas stockings were just that–everyone’s own clean sock. And the kids always found the biggest ones they owned to hang up.

Now D.C. always was an ingenious kid. He chose his long Boy Scout knee sock, but decided it still wasn’t big enough. So he cut the foot off one of the socks and sewed the rest of the stocking to the top of the other one. It was such a brilliant idea that he didn’t even get punished for the deed. I think I filled it up with oranges that first Christmas.

In the meantime, as kids do, D.C. grew up, joined the Army, married, had kids of his own and made the military his career for the next 35 years. It was during one of his three tours in Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot that I came upon that long-forgotten green stocking.

As a joke, I filled it up with goodies like smoked oysters, canned chili, Vienna sausage, nuts, toy cars, hand warmers, a Pez dispenser and a heck of a lot of other stuff and sent it to him that year for Christmas.

He’s made sure the stocking was returned to me every year since.

I guess in thankfulness for my son’s safe return from the war zone, his upcoming retirement and all the laughter that stocking has provided the family over the years, I’ll have to fill it up yet one more time.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives and travels the country in a small RV with her canine companion, Maggie. She is passionate about writing, birds, books, nature and travel.