Taking the ornaments off the Christmas tree, I take a moment to pause over each ornament before it gets tucked away. I like to think for a minute on the story of each one. There are so many already, after just a simple start 6 years ago, with the little green airplane, a few red bows, and a nutcracker. Nutcracker ornaments have been a favorite of mine since high school, when my best friend Nancy gave me one for Christmas. It was wooden and got broken (Yes, I tried to actually crack a nut with it. I was a Teenage Idiot.) Another year, Nancy gave me a plastic snowflake, dusted with sparkles that fell in a tiny wintry shower if it was bumped. That ornament was my all-time favorite, and lately, I find myself wondering what ever became of it. Does it still have a place in the story of my mother's Christmas tree?
I remember the ornaments of my childhood well. Some of the ornaments were glass and quite old, coming down to us from my great grandmother. A couple of them, I made in school, applying glue and stickers to styrofoam spheres, and then rolling them in glitter. The prickly feel of the glitter lasted for years. The baked ornaments had a fresh and spicy smell, but they were short-lived, like the shiny paper fans I folded and stapled one year, in colors red, green, and gold. One ornament was bright pink and elaborately decorated with beads and pins and fancy gold twine. It came as a kit, and Mom, Kim, and I each took a turn winding the twine and pinning it. We all stopped to marvel at it, running our hands over the contours of the stuck lengths of glossy round beads year after year. I wonder if my mom still adorns her home with the same ornaments, hanging them each year with a nod to their individual tales, their origins, the map of treasure they come together to create, the map that was our childhood.
From our tree, I am removing the ornaments of our story. In amongst the green and red plane and nutcracker are a mix of ornaments from Cyril's year in daycare. A red spool that once held a Christmas wishlist. Baked ornaments (Ah, the smell!) and ornaments made from pipe cleaners. One has a photo of him when he was three or four. The Cyril in it looks just like our two-year-old Alaric. Next to it is an assortment of ornaments Cyril made at library craft nights this year: a pirate crew of hot-glued clam shells, a snowman made from neon yellow pompoms, silver and gold pine cones, diligently spray-painted by Becky, the children's librarian before Cyril decorated them and brought them home. There is a scrap of paper containing orange scribbles, hung on red string; a note that Celeus left for Santa, but that Santa forgot to take (ooops.)There are ornaments we have been given as gifts, like the snowman from my friend Diane Allen, the Santa mitten from Becky Williams, and the polar bears from my friend, Marian. The little tin snowman my in-laws brought home for us from their trip down the Rhine is one of my new favorites.
Putting away these ornaments I am reliving the story of each one, and reliving the Christmas we have just had. It was a Christmas of joy, and wonder, and wishes fulfilled. It was an anticipated Christmas, and seeing my friends and family, each one of them, filled me with excitement and delight. It was a blessed and abundant Christmas, with gifts coming from unexpected places. It was a thoughtful and embracing Christmas, one in which so many of the gifts my loved ones gave me was spot-on, just exactly right for me. It was a Christmas of togetherness, that began the day the tree went up and Cyril and I (at his insistence) improvised and sewed and sweated over a homemade angel for its top. It was not a perfect Christmas, but a herald of what is still to come. And it was a white Christmas, which is actually quite rare for us. Reliving the story of this Christmas, I think of the flower necklace my husband gave me this year; a wise, heart-warming and beautiful gift.
I opened the gift box on Christmas Day to discover inside a necklace made from a preserved flower. It appears to be a blue orchid. The color is astonishing. It is a most remarkable adornment, a gift that has it origins in the novel that we both finished reading about a week before Christmas, Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things. We read the novel at the same time (though he finished first) and at times we read it simultaneously, laying next to each other, each of us holding the book up and open to our separate places, our legs twisted together. Whenever we read a book together this way I am struck with a fresh appreciation for the connection I feel with my partner, husband, and best friend. Reading this particular novel with Ross was like joining him on a captivating, illuminating, and sparklingly perfect journey. Gilbert's weaving of the story of Alma, the brilliant, passionate and isolated botanist intertwines strands of science, sensuality and spirit, and asks us to think about the story of life itself. The exquisite novel is adorned by equally exquisite illustrations of orchids.
As I put away ornaments, sealing away each of their stories until next Christmas, I am freshly grateful for Ross' gift. It is my own personal ornament, one that will not be boxed away, but brought out and worn, an embellishment for any day. It will tell and retell for me the story of Alma and the larger story of which hers is now a part, the still unfolding story of us.