It’s January, and one of these days I really have to put away the delightful decorations that give me such pleasure over the holidays. Some of them are directly connected to Christmas, while others hang around the fringes.
Take the nativity scene. I painted that–how many years ago now? Many! The camel driver and his camel were damaged beyond repair as time went on, but the main figures are still hanging in there. I confess, I did have to take a mascara wand to the robe of one of the shepherds once, because that was the only color I could find that matched. Must have worked, as no one has ever commented on a strange smudge on his hem. To tell the truth, I can’t find it anymore myself.
When I unpack decorations, every single one holds a memory. I suspect it’s the same for you. As a result, it takes me forever to decorate the tree. I used to have two glass ornaments from my parents’ first Christmas tree, just a few months after they married in 1938. The white and silver have faded, tarnished, turned translucent, but the basic forms are still there. The fat little child figure succumbed to time, however, the glass getting so brittle is shattered in my hand several years ago. We’ve still got the fish, silver-scaled and feisty, with his little black beady eye. He’s lost the brush that was a tail, but he’s still clearly a fish. And he now resides permanently in a blue velvet box. He’s too fragile to hang on the tree.
For several years, we were the beneficiaries of beaded and sewn felt ornaments from my mom. She and my dad would conjure up wonderful goodies for the annual Women’s Hospital Auxiliary Christmas Fair. And what an extravaganza it was! We were gifted with an angel, a single ice skate, Santa, a snowman, a startled-looking teddy bear. Even George and Martha Washington, in full Revolutionary regalia. But my favorites are the characters from The Wizard of Oz, all four Yellow Brick Road sojourners, including Toto, the dog.
Later, once the grandchildren arrived at an age to handle macaroni, glitter, construction paper, glitter, scissors, glitter, glue, glitter…well, you get the idea…we received a gingerbread boy covered in dried beans, and an angel with a rather quizzical look on her face. I’m not too sure angels slathered their lips with ruby-red lipstick, but she’s pretty cute anyway with those googly eyes. Ornaments made with love are the best.
Years ago, a close-knit group of women ruled the roost of the summer Girl Scout Day Camp, running an art barn, a nature hut, a super-organized kitchen, and various and sundry other areas necessary for a smoothly operating camp. For several years after we retired from those jobs, we did a winter cabin camping excursion, just for the fun of cooking over a fire again, and being together. One of the women was a super-duper knitter, and, when I gave her a pattern, she made a miniature Santa set, red and edged in white angora: pants, jacket (including belt with tiny gold buckle), hat, and, best of all, long underwear for those cold winter nights on the sleigh. Yes, the long-johns even have a drop-down seat!
However, one of the very best things to “pack away” are the yummy concoctions we’ve stocked up on for the holidays. Hughes Candy in Oshkosh makes the very best chocolate confections. Snow on the Mountain–oh my! Think of a turtle with a blob of fondant cream on top, then covered in chocolate again. Sinful. Cookies galore, of course. The Betty Crocker white cutouts, frosted with a simple frosting and some colored sugar are tops. We have chocolate Santa cutouts too, because we are a mixed bunch when everybody’s here. My mother-in-law annually made bachelor buttons, and my Bonus Sister and I try every year to reproduce her ping-pong-round cookies. She’s done it once, and so have I…but neither one of us knows what we did to keep them from flattening. An ongoing challenge. (Am I making you salivate yet?)
Bar none, the memories we pack away every year are the most highly cherished. Memories we can come back to again and again. When the New Yorkers have set off, when the Chicago duo gathers up the excited dog and heads out, when the Wauwatosa bunch have kissed and hugged their way out the back door…What is left? The memories. We can conjure up the laughter around the table every time we peek into the dining room. We can smell the fragrance of food that seems to still waft through the kitchen. Squint a little, and we can even see the bodies sprawled all over the living room, bathed in the soft lights from the tree, telling tales and remembering past visits.
As we enter yet another new year, I wish you the time to refresh, reconnoiter, and remember the best of the past year, as we all look forward to packing away the best of the year to come.
*Check out the Photos to see some of the ornaments I write about.