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.