How many items do we collect in our lives that remind us of prior times, both good and bad? I know I have several, and I treasurer all of them. For instance I have a picture in my work area of my mother and Father when they were dating. It was made in a photo booth around 1952 or 53 and it gives a glimpse of how happy my parents were at that very moment. It is not something I could ever replace no matter how hard I tried. Yet to them at that moment, it was a fun little thing to do on a date. I also have a picture of a 1954 Studebaker commander, my dad’s favorite former car.
This past weekend Sheryl (my wife) said it was time to put up our Christmas tree. It is not something I really enjoy doing. Oh I enjoy it being up but well the work of putting it up and taking it down can be a pain. Now to be fair it is much better than a few years ago before we downsized our tree. I would say our current one is about ¾ the size of the prior tree and for me at least; it is a better situation in that it takes up less space and is easier to manage in our little living space. Yet it is still big enough to be pretty. Even absent the presents that will soon be added the tree looks very good in the corner of the sun room.
As we assembled the tree, we engaged in the annual family ritual of placing our ornaments on it. We were married in 1977 and starting the year before we purchased ornaments for our tree. Most were cheap little trinkets that we found at store closing or after Christmas sales. But we also tried to purchase one or two nice ornaments each year most with the year printed on it somewhere. I found 1978, our first Christmas and an apartment above a doctor’s office. 1979 back in our home town of Kokomo, and first son. 1981 we were in our first house and a TV that would soon stop working. Every ornament told some kind of story. It was fun to look at them and find our favorites.
One of mine is a plastic ornament with a train on it 1978. It looks like glass, but it is really plastic and the light shines through it and makes the train look so colorful. Another one is an elf on a ladder holding a light. It looks like it is suspended over the edge of a building working on the light. Of course some of my favorites are from our home town. I made a point, when I could of collecting the City of Kokomo ornaments most of them with pictures of the local icon Ole Ben the stuffed steer on them. Maybe it is my since of humor but putting glass ornaments with pictures of a stuffed steer on them appeals to me for some reason. I recall the year I lobbied for a picture of the Sherman tank on it. Somehow the seasonal celebration and a Sherman tank do not seem to mix. Still I like the idea of putting unique pictures on my tree.
There are two ornaments that have adorned our tree since 1982 when my mother gave them to me. They are not pretty; in fact they are downright ugly except ion in an odd way. These two ornaments are from my mother’s family tree. The acrylic ornaments are cloudy and they are fragile, which makes sense since the ornaments are at least 60 and maybe 70 or 80 years old. All I know is that each year as I grew up they would go on our tree and mom would tell the story of her family.
She would say that starting in the early 40’s they lived in public housing. The family of 7 was crowded into a small two bedroom apartment they literally live on top of each other. When my aunt Patti Anne passed at 10 it was bitter sweet to have more space in the girl’s room. The tree was a luxury that the family could ill afford. So the tree itself became the families Christmas present to each other. For three years in the mid 40’s starting before the end of the war and lasting until after, my grandfather had TB and was quarantined in a sanitarium unable to leave or work. The family had almost no income and certainly no assets. Christmas presents were a couple of oranges, and of course the tree.
Mom related these stories for a single purpose. She always ended each year by saying the same thing. We have (her family) has come a long way. But we must never forget that we came from nothing. If we forget where we came from we might lose something precious. In her case, my mom was worried we might lose our drive to do better. Mom believed in education more than anyone I have ever met. To her, if you could have the opportunity for an advanced education you had to take it. She would say, we must not forget we came from public housing and because we had good fortune and hard work we no longer live there. She would also remind us that we must give back to show a bit of our gratitude. It was a lesson I never forgot and I told my sons of it each year.
Someday soon, each of my sons will have one of these ornaments. But they will get the same admonition I received when I received them. Each year you must remember as you place this on the tree where you came from and how you got to your current place, where ever that may be. Yes there are a lot of memories on that tree. Some good, some maybe not the happiest, but they all make up my life and my life with my beautiful wife. They involve my son’s whom I adore and yes they remind me of where I came from. It is true, we (as a family) have done well, but what separates us from where we were to where are, is a fine line. Remembering that for all mankind is the meaning if the season.
PS: I will be having the second of my two RA treatments so I will not have a blog tomorrow and likely not one on Wednesday.