Saturday, December 16, 2006

Deck the Halls

Today, I watched four episodes of Sex and the City while installing and decorating my Chistmas tree.
I was going to watch one of my Muppet holiday movies, but they're all on VHS and the rumpus room doesn't have a VCR. Yes, those are signed limited edition Brian Froud prints on the wall of my rumpus room, just in case there was any doubt just what kind of nerd I am.

Last night, I went over to my parents' house to help my mom finish decorating their tree while my father was still down in Danville for my great-aunt Delores' funeral.

Decorating the tree is the only holiday tradition all year that is still difficult since the divorce.

When I had been married only a month and a half, I began decorating for our first Christmas. We lived on the first floor and in the basement of a classic bungalow house in Berwyn and had lots of room for a full-sized tree. Because it was so big and because I had accumulated only a few ornaments of my own in my short adult life, I went to my mom's stash to fill it up. I guess I saw my mom's collection as the sourdough batch from which I could take a starter lump to make my own bread that would taste like my mother's but over time would acquire its own microbes that were specific to my environment and so be distinct to my life. Dennis brought some from his family's collection, as well. In my enthusiasm for this idea, I took all of the ornaments that were my quarter of the sets of ornaments that had been made over the years for my brothers and I. Specifically, my mother used to paint ceramic teddy bears with blue eyes to look like us and my teddy bear would have eye-lashes since I was the girl. She would paint our names on them. We also had ceramic stockings with our names painted on them. I had fantasies of all my brothers' future wives taking theirs when they got married as a way of forming their own sourdough cultures. I was starting a new tradition.

I don't know how, but I've lost all of those ornaments.

The best case sccenario is that I wrapped them up and kept them separate when I put my stuff into storage before moving to Orcas. But since all of my boxes are packed Tetris-style into my old closet, I haven't had the time to tear it all apart to check. Also, I fear that once I do tear it all apart, I still won't find them and then I'll really have to grieve.

Because my ex-husband used to throw things away when I wasn't around. Usually, it was when we were moving. Because I hated moving, he would tell me that he would finish up and make the last couple of trips to relieve me of the stress. I wouldn't realize that whole boxes were missing until months later and there was nothing I could do about it. I assume he blamed their loss on his friends, who he characterized as irresponsible and immature when we talked about them so that I would believe explanations like that when they were necessary. Certainly, that's how he explained missing cash and jewelry. His friends (many of whom had been his students) must have taken them. You know how kids are. Pedro's family is pretty poor. Vicky's mom doesn't really love her. What do you want me to do? he would say. My wedding pearls! I still grieve those. Now I fear that my ornaments will join that list of loved things lost.

So, now it's 7 years later, I'm divorced, none of my brothers are married and there are only three ceramic stockings on my mom's tree. It's not actually symbolic of my status in the family, but it still hurts.

The mystery is that I still have so many other ornaments. That's why I'm pretty sure that I must have wrapped them up separate.

So, in an attempt to focus on what I have instead of what I am missing, I present to you a gallery of ornaments that actually are symbolic of my status in the world. I almost never purchase ornaments for myself. Almost every one was given to me by someone who thought I was special at some point in my life.

The Murphys account for a good half of the ornaments on my tree.
I have to be honest and tell you that I can't usually remember who made what. However, it's pretty good bet that those with a sea shell theme were made by my cousins Emily and Megan, who grew up in Florida. Jake signed this one so I know it's his.Since becoming an adult, my aunts Barbara and Cynthia also contribute to my Christmas decorations with ornaments and manger scenes. A penguin them seems to run through the ornaments.

Many of these family onaments are fun because my mother has matching ones on her tree, which provides a little of the relationship that I was looking for when I took the ornaments with my name on them. This pickle also matches one on my mother's tree. She became enamored of the German tradition of hiding the pickle one year and bought one for her tree. At least once, she has hidden it so well that she left it on the tree to be taken out to the curb and she's had to buy another one. In one of those years, she bought two and gave one to me.

My Aunt Delores was a meticulous and artful ceramics painter. I was thinking about her since I couldn't go down to the funeral. She was a hard woman who was unable to have kids and whose medical situation was such that she grew up knowing that she would never have a family. I don't know if that was why she was such an unpleasant and hard woman so much of the time, but she had a delicate touch with a paint brush. She made the mouse that hangs on my tree. I also remember that she had glasses that had ladybugs in the cat's eye corners. The snowflake also matches those on my mother's tree. They were tatted by my Grandma Tolentino, who was my older brothers' grandma who made sweaters for my younger brother and I with our names stitched down the sleeves.

I was talking to Jeffrey a few days ago and reminded him that his mother changed my life a little when she said, "Just because I no longer ride my bicycle all the time, that doesn't mean it isn't important that I once did." Some of these ornaments are from people that were important to me at one time and so, despite the fact that we no longer spend time together, they are still important to me.
I haven't seen or spoken to the woman who gave me this Shakespeare in over a year but we taught English together at my first teaching gig. She bought it for me when she traveled to a Shakespeare festival in Canada as a chaperone for the smart kids. Will is flanked by a Santa sweater given to me by my parents' next-door neighbor who I was close to when her twins were two-years -old and I was over there all the time watching them so she could get some life taken care of one summer. My mother bought me the Santa on his other side this year because he is beautiful and made by Villeroy and Boch, ceramic designers that consistently produce beautiful dishes that fit our aesthetic perfectly.
This little mouse is named Chh, which is the noise made in the back of the throat for some Jewish words, like "challah" and "Channukah." One of my best friends from high school and I traded it back and forth at speech tournaments as a good luck talisman. We had named him after the accents that we had to learn as we portrayed Holocaust survivors for our horribly over-dramatic duet scenes. I haven't seen or spoken to her since graduation. Next to Chh is a Santa that I made in the 4th grade. I know this because I was a little retentive about creating heirlooms for posterity at that age, so I labeled it well. Mrs. Barker used to pick her ear wax and eat it. I swear it. Two of my brothers had her, too, and they will totally back me up on this one.

This monkey was tied to a basket full of candy from a fellow English teacher at my second teaching gig. She and I have stayed in touch but she just started a very busy stage in her life and I haven't seen her since this summer. Next to it is a house that was attached to a house-warming present from my friends Emily and Joe, who are hopefully in labor with their first baby right now. One of my good friends in college made us all these glass globes my sophomore year. I've seen her once since then and emailed just a few times. It's always good to talk with her but we've never been able to start up a new relationship. My best friend from high school gave me this our senior year. She loved Disney and a couple of the gifts she gave me had the Pooh Bear and Piglet best friend theme. We stopped spending much time together when I went away to college. We have known where the other was over the past 10 years but it hasn't been until the last several months that we have spent time together as friends again.

In the stories we tell, especially on TV and in movies, one of the most satisfying things to watch is when friends or lovers have a giant blow-out fight and say everything they've kept to themselves over the course of the relationship about the character flaws of the other person. Admit it. It's satisfying. To imagine ourselves in that situation, throwing it all to the wind in one big purge.

But scar tissue remembers the wound and relationships are never the same, even if forgiveness and reconciliation are possible.

So, I've never forced anyone to declare that they no longer wanted to spend time with me. Only once have I ever said it. Despite wanting the kind of clarity and closure that formalizing the break would give me, I've always feared that any conversation with a friend about how we were drifting apart would result in one of those giant, blow-out fights.

I used to think this was a weakness: that I didn't live life as boldy as I could because I feared permanently losing the few friends that I could muster. But again and again, it is playing out that leaving the door unlocked behind me, even as I keep walking on through new rooms means that old friends can catch up with me or meet me in rooms through other doors. I don't know who was Pooh and who was Piglet in our relationship, but I have told everyone I know the story of realizing that her one-year old son had not thrown the plastic butter packet on the floor but hid it in his mouth with closed lips and chubby cheeks and the laughing frenzy of trying to get him to reliquish it once we knew it was there because he smiled in joy at the taste of the butter leaking out.

Like my ornaments, I have friends that I can't find right now or for the last several years, but that doesn't mean that I won't find them again someday when I'm cleaning out my closets.

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