Is It Time to Hang Grandma's Ornaments Yet?
There have been Christmases where I have wondered how I could afford the dog and pony show I thought I should put on for my boys to make their Christmas “magical” (never mind the gifts themselves), but regardless, we keep the faith in Christmas, hope for better times, and love our family and friends.
Amongst the many boxes of Christmas decorations that we unearth the day after Thanksgiving every year is a small bin of delicate keepsakes. Each precious treasure is wrapped individually in tissue paper nestled within its own box, many labeled with my mom’s or grandma’s handwriting. I thought these ornaments might be ready to make their debut this year, now that my sons are 12, 11, and 7. However, when someone actually tried to ring a china bell à la calling the cows home for dinner and another followed suit by shaking a German blown glass ornament like a maraca -- which immediately ended up in shards on the floor -- I knew this wasn’t the year.
I had no words for my son as I handed him the dustpan. These shards were part of a set handed down from sometime before my time and irreplaceable. The china bell and the remaining blown glass ornaments quickly rejoined the rest of the ornate and fragile heirlooms in their storage bin. I wouldn’t let my boys touch them or even look at them, and huffed off to put them back in storage immediately. I suppose that action in itself spoke louder than any words I could conjure.
While I do cherish these ornaments, they are not the most meaningful to me. My most-loved ornaments are the ones that are made out of Popsicle sticks, yarn, pipe cleaners, beads, or wood colored with markers. We also have cut-out photos, real birds’ nests, and origami creations fashioned from standard-issue sticky notes, as well as crinkle paper garland made from the discarded left edge of perforated loose-leaf paper. Some of these decorations are from my own childhood -- like my original clumsy attempts at sewing with green embroidery thread on red felt -- but most of them chronicle my boys’ lifetimes, in yearly chapters.
My ultimate favorite story is told by the hand-painted baby food can “ornaments.” At least, I think they are baby food cans. That is what my mom always told me, but I can’t find any documentation that baby food ever came in cans. Suffice it to say, they are little cans about the size of a small vessel of tomato paste, painted brightly with stripes, candy canes, and dots. When my grandparents were first starting out, during World War II, they did not have very much materially. Legend has it, they drove an Army surplus jeep with holes in the floor boards (this story always made me think of Fred Flintstone’s foot-powered car). They surely ascribed to the philosophy espoused by The United States Office of War Information on its posters urging Americans to “Do with less -- so they’ll have enough.” (“They” referred to U.S. troops.)
My grandparents followed the part about “doing with less” long after the war, it seemed, if one could judge by the upright glass straw dispenser filled with leftovers gleaned from fast food restaurants (which I am sure were washed and re-used). The surplus paper restaurant napkins were in the next drawer down from the supposedly secret stash of hard candies, and my grandparents dried out paper towels for reuse next to their kitchen sink. My grandparents were the only people I knew who actually used a nutcracker: buying nuts already shelled was deemed frivolous. My grandfather cracking the nuts we all found in our socks (we hung my grandfather’s actual everyday socks on the mantel for Santa to fill), first for “his bride” and then for the rest of us, was a common occurrence on Christmas morning.