Tina’s Tree of Memories

I wasn’t planning on putting up Christmas this year; we are changing things up by going out of town and not doing all of the tedious things I do every year in the name of tradition. I wasn’t planning on putting up Christmas that is until my sister arrived for a visit with my mother’s holiday ornaments in tow. I had asked her months ago to bring them so we could share them with her kids and enjoy the memories. I wasn’t totally prepared for the deluge of nostalgia and memories some of them brought to mind.

I was eager to sift through the boxes, yet sad at the same time. This will be the second Christmas without my mom, but she was sick for years so it’s been a long time since most of this pile of holiday cheer has seen the light of any holiday, been admired or felt the love of its owner. Most of it is plastic, 80’s relics with little meaning. Nestled amongst the plastic odds and sods I rescued a few treasures. Not Swarovski or Limoges kind of treasure, but Tina kind of treasures. Little blown glass or ceramic ornaments purchased from her grandchildren’s school fundraisers other plastic or resin ornaments bought cheaply but valued greatly for their symbolism and meaning in her life. Many things still had their dollar store tag stuck somewhere visible; to my mother, their place of origin nor the cost ever mattered, all that mattered was what the item meant to her.

There were quite a few boxes and bags all jammed into totes for safety. Paper towel seemed to be the wrapping of choice and clear plastic bags the holder. Santa’s! There were a lot of Santa’s because Santa has a beard and every man with a beard tied her mentally to my father regardless of the situation and real attachment. Dave was the King of Bearded men long before duck people with guns brought it to popular TV or hipsters made it their choice. Some of the Santa’s were outright scary; their plastic painted faces an aberration of the true father Noel we have all come to love. Some were memorable. The memorable ones went into a pile for keeps the others went into a bin for later donation. Snowmen were the next pile the same process and then there was a large pile of ornaments some single some in groups that were collected without rhyme or reason to sift through. I kept all of the ones I could place or remember. I tossed into the donation box all of the things I felt no sentimental attachment to or that couldn’t be connected to another family member. The only thing I’m undecided on is the sleigh full of plastic apples and pine cones that never decay; it was Tina’s centrepiece from the early 80’s on and while not my decorating style I can’t look at it without remembering how much she loved it for the first few years then how much she talked about replacing it for many many more as she carefully displayed it and stored it in proper rotation. Its cheap looking yet so well made its almost indestructible.

When Tina moved into a nursing home I got her an ornament stand. It’s a barren gold tree, delicate and somehow pretty when all of her favorite things dangle from its shiny branches. Without thinking much about it yesterday I set it up on the cabinet where my parents are currently spending their eternal afterlife. I set her favorite Mr. & Mrs. Claus felted ornament underneath and began filling the waiting tree appendages with many of those favorite things. From the antique to the newish, similar felted Santa’s began waving from hooks wrapped tight to the gold bars; all of them look like toys to curious kitties so I took every precaution possible to saving them from the acts of claws and paws just waiting to happen. The Canadian Tire Virgin Mary purchased for under $4 in 1992, the lattice work heart and weird felty goose both bought at a craft fair and loved more for the memory of the afternoon than their beauty made the cut too. I added a Hallmark Manger scene I had spent a lot of money on another lifetime ago when I worked at the mall because it always made her so happy to see it lit up. Unfortunately to see it light up it must be plugged into an old school light set. Back 30 years ago the “plug in” feature made it special now it makes it antiquated with sentimental attachment. A brass holiday scene with “The MaGee’s” engraved on it seems most appropriate stationed near the top. There’s also a Snow White ornament because she was Tina’s favorite princess; a few glass and gold pieces for sparkle, a pink high heel because that’s just me and a red girly hand mirror that I’m sure she loved for its implied value and spellbinding beauty. Mirror Mirror on the wall etc., etc., etc.

Without realizing it my Mother had once again gotten me to participate in the holidays. Her ornaments celebrating the season in my house bring to mind the smells of short bread cookies and magic cookies bars hot from the oven. I can almost see the plates of baked beans and ham, Christmas cake and tarts in flavors like walnut, mincemeat, chocolate and lemon, cookies in various flavors in tins stashed all around the house. It seemed like such excess just to celebrate one day, but it was always so fun and so special we did it anyways. I cannot eat M&Ms without remembering the holiday bags, bowls and dispensers that spell out our weird family tradition and I still miss getting a bag from my Mom to binge out on on Christmas Day. Thankfully I’m happy to see these things, but I still don’t feel the need to run around like crazy accomplishing the impossible I’m a sticking to my plans of discovering new traditions and experiences. Less effort more enjoyment is the current plan. I may not keep all of these things forever; but I’m glad I’m keeping them for now, tacky sleigh, plastic apples and all. I hope the items I’ve put aside for everyone else bring some similar connections and joy. People only disappear if we let them. My parents aren’t going to show up to dinner on Christmas Day, but hopefully these little pieces of who they were will keep their spirits alive at the table.