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