Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's Ornamental

I hate winter, but Christmas brightens it up for me. I always decorate as soon as I can—sometimes after the last bite of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. (I am opposed to doing it sooner than that.) Last year at this time I was renting a room from a friend. She doesn’t always put up a tree, but she did last year—I think at least in part for my benefit. I appreciated that she did that. A lot. It was a nice tree. I enjoyed sitting and looking at it. But, it wasn’t my tree. I was trying to figure out why that mattered. Mine wasn’t any nicer than hers—in fact, hers was nicer than mine. Hers wasn’t a whole lot different than mine. So, why did I miss my tree?

I got the answer this year when I started decorating my tree the day after Thanksgiving. I opened my tin of ornaments and it may as well have been a passport for a trip down memory lane. (I’m not sure why I’d need a passport for that particular trip, but that’s what popped in my head, so I’m going to roll with it.)

As I pulled each ornament out, I remembered its significance. In some cases the only significance was that I got it on clearance for a good price. But, in some cases, it was special because of who gave it to me.

I had two ornaments from Becky. Both have my name written in gold; one is dated 1986 and another 1987. Becky was my Sunday school teacher at the time and gave each of us in the class an ornament each year. One is circular and has a nativity scene, the other is bell-shaped and depicts an angel praying. Both are special to me and remind me not just of Becky but of Olivet Christian Church.

I have two ornaments that remind me of my friend Mary. One she gave me and it reads “Our friendship is a special treasure…Christmas 1992.” We had become friends in 1982 (seventh grade). In 1992 10 years seemed like a long friendship. I’m happy to say that in 2010, it’s a longer friendship by 18 years. The other ornament that reminds me of her is one that I bought for her in 1995….and never gave to her. It remained wrapped for a couple of years. We’d see each other periodically, but I never remembered to bring the ornament with me. Besides, giving it in July would have been weird. Finally, I unwrapped it and started hanging it on my tree. Every year when I place it, I smile and say to myself, “Merry Christmas, Mary!”

The tree shaped ornament I got from Barbie stands out because of its size and non-traditional colors—pink, purple and teal. She picked it because those are her favorite colors. The ornaments on my tree are predominantly red, not by plan. You might think I’d be inclined to hang hers toward the back so it didn’t clash. I don’t. Barbie is not a back branch kind of person. So, every year it stands out in much the same way she stands out in a crowd. And it makes me smile.

As I pull out the silver ornament from Mom I am reminded of a kind gesture. I had come home from college and I stopped by to see Mom at the post office when I got to town. She mentioned she had sent the package off. “What package?” I wondered aloud. “Oh, I don’t think I was supposed to tell you that,” she replied. It turns out that someone at the dorm had tried to coordinate a surprise where each of our parents would send an inexpensive gift and the RA was going to present the gifts at our dorm holiday party. So, surprise ruined for me, no big deal.

I then mentioned that I imagined my roommate’s dad (her only living parent) wouldn’t send her anything as they had been on the outs. Sure enough, the day of the big surprise came. Almost everyone was surprised and were excited to open their gifts. Mom sent me this silver ornament, but as I suspected, Shari’s dad hadn’t sent anything. What I hadn’t expected was that my mother sent her something. It was an ornament just like mine. It arrived via FedEx so that it would get there in time. There is no doubt in my mind that Shari would rather have gotten something from her dad. But, I suspect she appreciated not being the only one without anything to open. As I hang mine on the tree, I wonder if she still has hers. I imagine she doesn’t. I wonder how she’s doing.

There are ornaments from other friends—a baseball ornament from Dave; a mouse with a candy cane from Lavon; a hand-painted mouse ornament from Jordan when she was a wee one; Santa Claus ornaments from Kathy and Kathi; a skier from Joan; manger scene and angels from Matt and a fan from Ilena. Some date back around twenty years, some just a few years. Each reminds me of these people and what they mean to me.

Then, there are a few ornaments that remind me of places I’ve been and the people with whom I went. I have a baseball ornament from Cooperstown which reminds me of my road trip with Jamey in 1999. I have a set of three ornaments from Greece which conjure memories of my trip there with Kathy to visit her son, Jameson over Thanksgiving 2006. There is nothing Grecian about them other than the fact they were purchased there. For all I know they were made in China. (Three out of the four of them survived the plane ride home…that’s why it’s a set of three. )

And, it’s not just the ornaments. I have a Christmas centerpiece from Barbie, a fabric wreath from Mary, candles from Wade, a mop angel from Michelle, a snow globe from Joan, a snowman from Kathy, snowmen and candles from Dave, and…the list goes on. Some of these friends have moved away, some I’ve lost touch with, some I remain close with, all have been an important part of my life.

So, yes, my friend’s tree last year was beautiful and it helped brighten my winter, but it couldn’t quite substitute for my tree because there are no substitutes for my friends and what they mean to me.