My son had put the Christmas tree in the old spot. The spot it used to go. The spot I have avoided putting it for two years now.
This should have been a non-issue. But when I walked in and saw it standing where it used to be in my old life, I did not even take my coat off before I dragged it to the other side of the room.
Perhaps it was the moment of déjà vu, the moment that took me back to other Christmases in this house. Christmases where our tree, year after year, was in that same spot. Some I would give anything to have back—with holiday music playing, a bevy of baked goods on display, children in fuzzy footed pajamas. Others not so much. Me wrapping Santa gifts at midnight, by myself, silent tears streaming down my face before the heaving sobs came.
And before you go feeling sorry for me, there are a lot of women still doing that latter bit. Save your sorrowful energy for them. Because you wait behind them in carpool line, buy your meat at the same deli counter, relax into savasana a foot away from them in yoga class. But you have no idea what they are going through this holiday season. They do not share that with you when they share the eggnog. Most of them struggle with a situation that defies the norm. A norm many still think of as a Rockwellian family.
When my new life began, post-divorce, my new tree location began. We were not going backward.
We decorated the tree as usual this year, which is always delightful and poignant at the same time. I continue a tradition my mother started when I was a baby. Each year brings a new ornament for the tree, one for each child, with name and year on it. Preferably something that relates to their hobbies or accomplishments, interests or faves, that year.
When I married, I began that tradition for my ex and me, as a couple. We too got our ornament on the tree as a reminder of what had happened that year.
So my Christmas tree is a cornucopia of memories cobbled together from the late 1960s onward. It’s a trip down memory lane, ready or not.
There is the sand bucket we bought in Frankenmuth, Michigan after introducing my young sons to the biggest sand dunes they’d ever seen. Halfway up, they refused to go further and insisted it was time to play with bucket and shovel. I made the trek to the top solo and still can see them from my hilltop view, happily ensconced in miles of sand, intent on building the world’s largest sand castle.
There are, of course, the handmade ornaments. The popsicle snowflake, caked with glitter, from my youngest. The handpainted wooden Rudolph, from my six-year-old self, in all of its purple and orange glory. Despite my older sisters’ protests that a purple and orange Rudolph was factually incorrect (I have since pointed out that you can’t argue the factuality of a fictional flying reindeer), I dug in my heels. And hang him each year in proud defiance of any superfluous norms.
The San Francisco cable car is from my twenty-first year. My parents took my sister and I there for my twenty-first birthday. My father bought me my “first” (or so he thought) drink, a glass of champagne, at the Fairmont Hotel bar. It came with a wrapped box of champagne truffles. I still tear up at that one.
The Terminal Tower, a reminder of my Cleveland roots. Whenever I start to feel too big for my britches, I remember that I’m just a little girl from Cleveland, Ohio.
The Labrador retriever ornament my son chose as a child, perhaps a portent of the real dog to come. He does not seem to mind that her black fur does not match her replica on the tree.
My Nana’s ornament, the only one left not broken by one of my children, has a place of honor near the top of the tree. I remember her tree, in the parlor we were allowed in generally only on holidays. The candy dishes were filled with old-fashioned hard candies, tinsel was strewn everywhere, and her ornaments shone in the sun. I love that at least one shiny round ball still graces my tree.
Even deeper roots.
I do not think my son heard my sharp intake of breath when I came across the champagne-bottle-in-bucket ornament I thought I had buried deep. 1998. I bought that to celebrate my marriage, along with a paper sailing ship. Typical English major, buying in metaphors. We were launching our new lives, setting asail, blah, blah, blah. I no longer hang the champagne ornament. Let us just say the bubbly went a bit flat over time. But the sailing ship remains. After all, I have become captain of my own ship again. Oy with the metaphors. I guess I am still an English major at heart.
And yet, some kind spirit must have been hovering over me because the next ornament I spied was a flying green pig. One I bought the December of my divorce. It was a sign of hope despite the odds. A good reminder, even now.
I think the flying pig does not bat an eye at my orange and purple Rudolph. They are both unlikely fliers in an unexpected color. Compadres, really. They probably dance the Macarena to Feliz Navidad as they ignore the taunts of the other, more traditional, ornaments late at night.
I realized, my newly relocated tree is now slightly left of center. As I think I am after all I have experienced.
I guess it is not just my tree that is in proud defiance of superfluous norms . . . it still stands, like me, despite the weight of those memories. All those years.
But there I go again. Speaking in metaphor.
See? Some things never change.
17 Comments Add yours
Hey! I really liked your post, and afterwards i wrote a fictional story on my blog which was kind of similar to your post.
I was wondering if i could mention you in my post saying ‘post was prompted by’ or something like that, basically a pingback to this post?
Absolutely! Glad it inspired you:).
Slightly left of center…that depends on the perspective 😉
This touched my heart – as all your posts seem to do. My mom did the same tradition with the ornaments and I have passed it down to my son as well. The years after my divorce I kept his ornaments in a box, but because they each were part of a set I felt sad not seeing all of them together. This year, I got over it and the whole set for each year went up. Those little pieces of him were pieces of me too once. They should be celebrated and remembered, not stuck in a box and forgotten.
Merry Christmas to you and yours – thank you for your writing!
I love the tradition of having ornaments that mean something and tell a story. A very poignant post.
Thank you for reminding us that not everyone can be in the “holiday spirit” even if their outside veneer shows participation. For many there is an anniversary depression even if the triggering event did not happen at Christmas time; in general, people do the best they can considering the circumstances. And, there IS something special about collecting meaningful ornaments for a tree. The green flying pig is a total winner.
Green flying pig. I love it.
Dear English Major,
You’re a wonderful person and a fine writer who always makes me think about what’s important in life. Thank you.
Fair seas and following winds to you, and all best wishes from your not-so-secret admirer and friend,
Thank you, Amy! I still have the black turtlenecks to proudly proclaim my English major starus:). Wishing you and yours a blessed and decidedly unfrantic holiday season.
Sometimes I think we are less flesh and bone and more our stories and our memories – ours and the ones our loved ones hold for us. Important to keep creating new stories, new memories to add to our store, and, with luck, to overwhelm the bad ones.
That I promise you I will do, Cynthia! New memories sound wonderful . . .
Your tree, your spot, your family, your memories, your time to shine and twinkle for the seasons past, present and future. Congratulations, Kay.
Thank you, Mark! Twinkle and shine is a good plan:).
The Christmases right after my divorce were such patched-up replicas of before or of anything really. So rag tag but very okay in a weird way. I remember so vividly putting together a bicycle for my daughter by myself, using a giant jar of Vaseline for the grease in the steering column and laughing to myself remembering how her bike always veered left. The history of your tree is told so well in its ornaments, its metaphors, I guess. It’s there but it’s yours now. The same only different as my grandmother would say. Merry Christmas to you and your boys.
Oh, you’ve made me laugh, Jan. Vaseline? Love it. Your grandmother was right–the same, only different. Was she friends with Yogi Berra? 🙂