Once upon a time, when a much younger me was starting married life, I thought it would be creative to have a Christmas tree that Martha Stewart would have envied. It would be the kind of tree that belongs in a house where the coasters are color-coordinated with the living room furniture and the box of tissues in the bathroom harmonizes with the walls. My tissue boxes were whatever color was on sale, and we didn’t even own coasters, but the tree could be a decorator’s triumph.
That first Christmas, the tree was dressed in blue and gold. The lights were blue and white (the gold lights came out too yellow). I think I may even have found some gold icicles somewhere. Eat your heart out, Martha.
Not so many years later, we had a three-month-old at Christmas. That year, the decorations stopped abruptly at the level where a small hand might grasp. The tree was still blue and gold, a little short of perfection because it couldn’t be trimmed all the way to the bottom branches. But we had someone we could hold up in front of the tree and say, “Lights. Pretty lights.”
Not so many years after that, we were in Japan, and we bought some of the fortune balls that Japanese drivers hung from the rear view mirrors. If the balls obstructed their view, no problem. When you’re making kamikaze traffic turns, a mirror just detracts by warning you of cars behind and to the side. We bought four fortune balls, since the family now numbered four. They weren’t blue or gold.
Not so many years later, an aunt gave our daughters a kit with balsa wood ornaments to punch out, paint and assemble. Soon we had reindeer with glittering antlers and an angel in sparkly white to add to the tree. Our Brownie decorated a red ball with her initials. A friend of my mother’s glued photos of the girls onto foam balls and trimmed the balls with ribbon and colored pins. My husband, Ron, bought a tiny hand blown sailboat from a glass blower. We still had gold and blue balls, but a decorator searching for a coordinating theme would have shrugged.
Years later, our oldest daughter sent an ornament shaped like a doghouse that she received in exchange for a donation to the Humane Society in memory of Angel, our Lab/German shorthaired pointer mix. A few years later, there was another ornament in memory of Angie, our sweet, gentle Cocker spaniel/Afghan hound mix.
Grandchildren arrived, and filled the trees of our later years with pipe cleaner candy canes, spools trimmed with Santa faces and construction paper cutout Santas in red outfits with black belts and boots.
There is no memorial on the tree to Ron. But his presence is there as I unpack the gold chain we bought at the Christmas store in Manteo, the little drummer boy we bought at a shop in Rothenberg where the clocks all ticked and chimed and never glowed in digitized letters , the ornament with the pheasant in flight that my mother brought back from Michigan because she thought he would like it.
After the kids left home, Ron and I had always trimmed the tree together. Now, it’s bittersweet as I hang the gold and blue balls—and the drummer boy, the brown pheasant, the brick-colored doghouses, construction paper Santa, reindeer with green paint and glitter. Patches, the cat, decides to chew up the plastic icicles, and soon thereafter, throws them up on the carpet. I remove icicles from the lower branches that tempt a cat’s reach.
The tree has been de-perfected over the years. But I look at the memory in each uncoordinated, child-made ornament, and thank God life didn’t bring me a tree of perfect blue and gold. Eat your heart out, Martha.
©2011 by Donna Engle