Every year when I decorate my Christmas tree I think of my mom and I chat with her as I pull the ornaments out of the box she so carefully packed them in before she died. She didn't know she was going to die that following June. Her last Christmas she had just had surgery and was having a tough recovery, so the fact that she packed up every ornament for every year of my life and gave it to me was such a blessing. When she died the following June I had my history tucked in a box in my basement.
My memories of Christmas are varied. We had a stairway from the kitchen to the upstairs that we always used, but then there was another that came up from the the living room and was just to the right of my bedroom door. When I was little I was pretty sure this is where the vampires came to kill me, but in December it was my secret spot to watch for Santa.
The living room of my parents house was where Christmas happened. With greens placed along the tops of windows, mineolas (I think that's what they are... those little orange things that are wicked tart- or taht in MA), pinecones and babys breath rouding out the colors the house just felt warm. The dark bannister leading up to beside my room was adorned with garland made of pine, laced with red ribbon and a pineapple to welcome the people who visited. The tree was always in the living room closer to the stairway and diagonal from mom's upright piano. Two couches flanked the fireplace and it was where we always gathered. Not just because mom would put a huge glass bowl of lindt chocoates on the coffee table, although that may have been why we'd end up in there every now and then.
I can't say that I actually remember holidays in high school. Those times were tough for me. As I say that, I do remember them. And I don't want to relive them. College is when things got good. I'd come home and always bring my roommate Mandy and dorm mate Julie with me as an overnight stop on their way to CT. Mom was always so excited to have us home! We'd each cheese and crackers, drink wine and paint glass ball ornaments. Mom would play the piano and we'd dance and laugh. God that was a blast! I randomly hear from Mandy, but have no idea where Julie is these days. They'll forever be a part of my holiday tradition though! I laugh every time I put up the ornament I painted that has our names with "ho ho ho" above each of our names!
Theres an ornament I painted in 1982 with a sloppy snowman, surrounded in yellow that says "Frosty." Apparently I've been doing this a long time! My favorites include a delicate silver one that I got as a child, the golden snowflake, snoopy carrying a Christmas tree, the green pickle that was given to me by people I haven't spoken to in years, the ornaments I have bought for Z for the past 8 years, the silver bell from one of my first years, and the handmade ones Z has brought home from daycare, preschool and school. They each hold some significance for me. I even have a beautiful ornament that I was given by a colleague when I moved here in 1998. It's heavy and pulls on the branches, but it's a reminder of where I've been. I even have one given to me by a boyfriend in high school's grandmother! I knew her before I knew him and I always thought she was fabulous. The tree is more like a personal history book for me. It exudes memories of my past.
My mom died over 14 years ago. The first year I sobbed as I opened the box marked with her handwriting. I drank my way through the decorating process and I wondered how the hell I'd ever get through the first round of holidays. You know what? I did. And then, about 6 or 7 years later, I realized I didn't cry. Which made me cry even more. Now I tell Z the story behind the tree and he asks me a million questions. For any of you who know him know that's not an exageration. He really does ask a ton of questions! And I answer as many as I can with honesty and try to paint him a picture of my past and the grandmother he never met.
I realized today that my tree is getting more full every year. Z will be 9 on December 7th, and he is now accumulating his own starter set for when he's a grown up. It took me 29 years to get all the ones that were packed up by mom, so lord only knows how long I'll get to hang onto his. But when I'm long gone I hope that he looks back and enjoys the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.
I miss you mom. Thank you for being here with me as I continue these traditions with my own family. Crazy little family unit that we are, but I know that because of you I value it for what it is. To those of you who've gifted me with ornaments over the years, know that I hold those memories close to my heart.