As the storms raged, the winds whipped through the back yard, thunder shook the china cabinet, & lightning illuminated the darkness outside, I carried them in from the garage, the red Rubbermaid containers marked “Christmas”, along with a few old, beaten cardboard boxes labeled the same. If I’m not going to be able to sleep, I might as well do something productive, I thought.
As I reached inside one box, & then another, I was dismayed at the disheveled mess. Many years previous, my Christmas ornaments would have been stored in an orderly fashion, each one gently & lovingly wrapped in tissue paper. But that is one of the ravages of divorce: regardless as to how badly you want the divorce, the signing of final papers right before the holidays makes it difficult to get into the proper holiday spirit. That first Christmas after my marital ties were severed, I rented a townhouse, & because I was still unpacking, I only had a table top little tree, so no need to sort back through all of the ornaments. The second Christmas in the townhouse, I was dating a man who had asked me to marry him, so though I was spending a lot of time at his house, since he had school aged kids, I did put up the small artificial tree I’d inherited from my marriage, using some ornaments from my former life, along with a few new ones. The third year into my divorce, having broken off that relationship, & having moved into a house by that time, I was not feeling particularly festive, so I once again did a table top tree. Those depress me, quite frankly, because I have always loved Christmas, along with all of its ornamentation. But I did not want to buy another artificial tree, because it was a reminder of the ex boy friend who had told me to get rid of mine when I moved, since we both loved real trees, we would always have a real one, & he volunteered that he would help me get a live tree for my own home until such time that we tied that proverbial knot. So I once again did a table top tree, because I did not want to look at painful memories of a lost love that would be invoked by a new artificial tree, seeing as how I had given my perfectly good one away to one of the movers from the moving company. Therefore, all those ornaments collected over a quarter of a century laid dormant in the garage yet again.
Last year brought all the hopefulness of a new love interest, & finally, a renewed sense of holiday Spirit. I snuggled up against the strong arms of my new boy friend, & together we planned an excursion to the local Christmas tree farm to cut down a tree for me. The day arrived for us to do so, & I was brimming with excitement, because we were both sentimental souls, & I knew it would be a memorable day. I could almost taste the dollar cup of hot chocolate served in a styrofoam cup. But he called me at the last minute with a big plumbing emergency at his place. I set about trying to figure out who among my many friends I would feel comfortable asking to help me get a tree. But my own pride at not wanting to ask anyone for anything stood in the way. So I started surfing the net & calling to see who would deliver one. It would not be the same as picking out a tree with a loved one, but at least I would have one before my son came home from college. I knew that I could enlist his help, but neither of us had the right type of vehicle. It turned out that the places that would deliver wanted almost as much as the cost of a tree itself, & I could not justify that on my single woman’s budget. So after a couple of days of being unable to coordinate a time to reschedule with the guy I was seeing, I drew a big sigh, & lugged the boxes of ornaments which I had gotten out back to the garage. I sat on my sofa, & as I surfed Facebook, I held back tears at the sight of all of the beautifully decorated trees of my friends. Even if I got a tree, what ornaments would I use? I did not want memories from my failed marriage or that other relationship to sully my new life.
Finally, after much contemplation, I resolutely decided I would find a way to get a tree. I asked my older cousin if she & her husband could help me, & she arranged for her brother & one of his friends to meet me at Lowe’s. Not wanting to intrude upon them longer than necessary, I grabbed the first tree I saw – after all, they were taking time from their families to help me, & it was the holidays. It was not the best looking tree I have ever had, but it was enough. I bought some new, inexpensive, but nondescript ornaments to use, & wrote a blog post about the ordeal of getting it into place.
This year I am not seeing anyone exclusively, & so the burden of a tree falls squarely to me. It is not expeditious to put a tree atop my little car, so more than likely I will have to do either a table top tree, or buy anther artificial one. As I contemplated what to do, I decided to pull out the old ornaments to see what type of tree I would like to have. Once upon a time I had a very large tree in the living room, a small artificial tree on the landing of the stairs, & another larger artificial tree in the Rec room of my old house. After the divorce, I threw away some ornaments, & gave some away. What did I even have left?
As the storms threatened to blow the house away, I began unwrapping the haphazardly stored ornaments – they were a mess from where I had hurriedly gone through them in preparation for the move out of the custom built house I had shared with my ex husband. But the last four years of storing them in the garage has taken its toll on them.
I slowly peeled away stuck on tissue paper from cookie dough ornaments which apparently had baked a little bit over the hot summers. Too bad they were not edible. I tried to recall each Craft Show I had gone to when they were en vogue. I had my little children by the hand for many of them, & we always enjoyed going from booth to booth & sipping samples of hot spiced apple cider while we shopped the handmade gifts & ornaments displayed. I always let each one of them choose an ornament. My hands unwrapped one of the family cookie dough ornaments which we got every year. You know the ones: four reindeer, or snowmen, or Santas in a sleigh, beneath a fireplace, or whatever, with each family member’s name hand written in permanent marker below one of the characters, & the year written on it, as well. Why did we think that those were the bomb? But for many years, they were all the rage.
No, definitely not using those. But what to do with them? Pack rat that I am, I find it hard to get rid of things that I spent much time selecting, & much money buying. If I relegate them to the trash can, I would inevitably suffer guilt, but that chapter is over, & I do not particularly like that style of ornament anymore, so what would it matter?
Next up were a couple of Baby’s First Christmas ornaments. Those need to be kept, & given to the kids, but not going on my tree, if I figure out how to get one this year.
Then I unwrapped Happy Meal ornaments that used to go in the kid’s rooms. Had I really kept those all of these years? I decided to trash them but that I would contact my daughter before doing so, because she had written a heart wrenching blog post that had dredged up times I was not yet ready to face about holidays past recently. But not even she wanted the Mickey D’s plastic Barbie dolls in sleighs, so into the trash they went.
I discovered that I still have about a third of my Santa Claus ceramic & resin collection. Some went straight to the trash can, like the one where Santa’s boot was broken off. Yes, a couple of years I actually had a an entire tree with Santas on them. I kept a handful of them, wondering if I could incorporate them into some other themed tree, for I do still believe in Santa, even if he has not helped me get a Christmas tree the last four years.
Next up was a glass ornament – a relic of a more elegant tree that I did for many years. It was scratched up a bit, & I thought that I had discarded all of those when I got my divorce, so the lone ornament that used to be part of a bigger collection went into the trash with the cheap kiddie ones.
A whole little box of handmade paper ornaments lovingly crafted by the kids was my next perusal. I knew that I must not sit down & look at them each one individually, or else I would surely cry the crocodile tears of a mother whose babies have left the nest. But of course, I must keep them. I made a mental note to find a better way to preserve them, for they were not faring well in that little cardboard box. Yet I had always heard that plastic was not the best means for preserving paper mementoes. I do not know, but as in years past, this was a chore better left for another day. So back into the box they went.
Then there was the potpourri of special ornaments that were kindly gifted to me by a variety of friends & clients over the many years, none of which had any resemblance to the next one. A small quilted angel, a huge plastic snowflake, a carved wooden Willow Tree angel, a stained glass angel, a Crimson Tide ornament, a Lenox snowflake, a designer candy cane, & many more. But the tree would look very mismatched if I decided to use nothing but those, so I set them aside, as well. Maybe I could do one of those eclectic, non themed trees?
Ah, how about these Precious Moments ornaments? Santa had left one in each kids’ stocking until they were twenty one years old, & they used to grace the rec room tree. My son could care less about them, but I have his entire set, in case his wife or kids or someone wants them one day. My daughter’s set was, last time I saw them, in my ex husband’s house. He was not ever one for sentimental displays of any sort, so I hoped he had not thrown them away, but that was between him & our daughter. No, I do not want a tree with my son’s childhood ornaments on it this year, either.
I still love the hand painted (and in some cases machine painted), wooden ornaments. Brightly colored in the traditional reds & greens of Christmas, they remain some of my favorites: a train from when my son was into Thomas the Tank engine, a reindeer, a sled, & of course, a Santa, some in good shape, & all reminders of a different era in time. What to do with those? I discarded the ones that showed wear, & set aside a couple for contemplation.
I really want a live tree, with brand new, expensive glass ornaments on it, but I cannot justify spending that much money to entirely outfit a new tree this year. I glanced at the ornaments I bought at the home store last year: I had gone with a simple assortment of gold & silver balls. They were all new, indicative of my new lease on life, if not necessarily my taste. Maybe I can just use those again, assuming I get a tree at all? Maybe …?
My hand fell upon a glass ornament that was bought in Gatlinburg the year my ex boyfriend took me there for my birthday. The two of us had purchased many ornaments together that year for the tree at his house that would presumably be our tree in future years. They were lovely, & I remember them well, because we spent considerable care & time selecting them together: a little girl holding a cardinal & a Santa Claus with a cardinal on it, among others. Cardinals stand for faithfulness, they are monogamous, & they mate for life. Except that did not exactly work the way it was supposed to do so, in this case. I briefly wondered if those ornaments will grace his tree this year, as he is with someone else now? But the key word is briefly. As I held the ornament I had taken home from that trip, I felt nothing other than a twinge over the fires that were, at that very moment, threatening to consume the little shops where they were purchased. But there was no longer any wistfulness or sorrow over what might have been. Not over what might have been with him, or my ex husband, either.
Feeling nothing is different than feeling numb, for numbness implies that feeling still lies beneath the surface, once the nerve endings that have been temporarily blocked reawaken. Nothing is what one feels when one runs a finger along a scar that has fully healed. The thickness of that scar does not invoke the sensations one feels when that same finger traverses tissue next to it that has never suffered injuries. Nor is it the same as if that finger traces a wound that has not yet healed.
So without any emotion whatsoever, I was able to make the decision that the ornament not only did not belong on my tree, but it does not belong in my life, either. What’s done is done. But as I reached in the box to grab the next surprise, my hand caused a little bell to ring, & for one second in time, I recalled the silver bell which I had given that former love as a peace offering after a disagreement. We had sat in the little coffee shop, each of us with tears in our eyes, as we decided we were far better together than apart. Will his hand cause that bell to ring as he places it on his mantle, as he did that year? Or has it, like so many of my old ornaments, made its way into the bottom of the landfill somewhere? Funny, when I thought about that, it was idle curiosity, as opposed to sentimentality. Yes, by the a grace of God, I am healed. Not a single tear slipped down my face, though the ghosts of the past teased & tempted me. And until you have been haunted by the ghosts of the past, you cannot really appreciate it when they lose their hold on you. But when they do, you feel as if an invisible grip has finally been pried from your heart, & no matter how many bells you hear ring, they will not ruffle your feathers.
Yes, the storms threatened outside as I slowly realized that I had finally found peace inside. If my house, like those relationships, blows away & takes those ornaments with it, they are only pieces of the past. Like the many things that have been destroyed by the wildfires in Tennessee, they are only reminders, & no fire can ever cancel out or destroy the memories they hold, for the memories will forever live in our hearts, no matter what we do. Yet we do not have to allow those memories to define us, for memories live in the past. Like old photo albums that one takes out once every few years, they do not inhabit our every day lives. Nor would we want them to do so.
My eyes fell to the box that houses my Nativity set. Oh, how I had longed for that before I was able to get it, finally, by hosting a Home Interior party all those many years ago. I set it proudly out on the coffee table, with firm instructions to my kids not to touch it, for all of the ceramic characters are fragile, & very breakable. Of course, within a few hours, Joseph’s head had managed to somehow mysteriously break off. Fortunately, I was cognizant of the season, & although I offered up further admonition, I quietly used super glue to help Joseph’s head get back on straight, & laughed as I thought about how the real Joseph must have come close to losing his head on that fateful night which we still celebrate over two thousand years later. Yes! The Nativity set is, as it has for the last twenty years, going to grace my home this year, for with it comes the true meaning of Christmas. It is the one decoration that truly means something, that stirs my heart with a hope for better days, rather than a remorse for the human condition which caused relationships to go astray.
And I am going to put the goofy little stuffed reindeer with Christmas lights strung in his antler that sings “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” whenever you press the button hidden on his foot on the bar, as he has been for over a decade, for he makes me laugh. And the little Grinch who sings the song that bears his name that used to make my little son squeal with delight, he can come out this Christmas to play, also. My grandmother’s Christmas handkerchief, I’ll place on my dresser, for it brings to mind her loving care of me throughout my childhood. I’ll buy candy canes to stuff in the ceramic bunnies (I know, that sounds odd). I’ll put my wooden Merry Christmas sign beneath the TV in the hearth room. In other words, I will salvage the good, but push back the bad memories. Christmas is about peace, love, & happiness, & there is not any reason whatsoever to do anything that causes anyone sadness. And that includes me. I am learning, for the first time ever in my life, to take care of me. That is what we need to do every single day we live – hold fast to the good, & let go of the not so good.
I meditated on these things as I hunkered down in the hall bathroom, under a Tornado warning. Just like the near miss traffic accident God spared from happening, or the recovery from a mystery illness I battled recently, He saw fit to keep me safe in the storm, though the tornado did touch down about two miles or so, as the crow flies, from me. I know that the people affected will be traumatized today, & I am thankful that God spared them. I hope they realize that the roof, the shed, or whatever else was damaged are, like the Christmas ornaments, just things, & that the real joy in life comes from the unseen Hand that stills the storms. Though we have to endure them, they never last forever. Afterwards, we must sort through the rubble, & find the good, while throwing out the things that were irreparably damaged.
I may not have a husband, a fiancé, or a boy friend, to help me get a tree this year, but I am going to figure something out! Santa, I’ve been a very good girl this year, so I know you are, in your magical way, going to help me out with this!
I may not be cooking the big dinners for the extended family that I always loved hosting on Christmas anymore, but maybe someday I will get to be a part of something like that again. For now, I will be content to look at my Nativity scene, remembering the only thing that is really supposed to count on Christmas, and that is that “God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son …” His love is the one love that has never failed me, & whether or not I have a fresh cut tree or fancy ornaments, I know that it never will.
I pray that all of those affected by the storms, wildfires, & other tragedies of late will feel His love, through those who were fortunate enough to be spared, this Christmas season. Offer a helping hand, a listening ear, or maybe just a new Christmas ornament, to those in need, to help them realize that despite lost homes, possessions, relationships, or loves, someone does care.
God bless …
– Lou Lehman Sams