Sunday, December 7, 2008

A handmade Christmas

The alert reader might notice that I changed the subtitle of this blog today, back to what it used to be. "The 10,000 Things" is one way Buddhists refer to this reality of forms. "The myriad things" is another phrase. Today, putting out our Christmas decorations, I find myself responding to, loving, things.

First was the little fiber-optic Christmas tree that changes colors in a wonderful way. We bought that after we bought this house, but before we were in it, when fiber-optics were pretty new. I remember so clearly that little store in a mall, the $29 impulse purchase - too much, but we were so happy to have found our dream house.

But the real memory trip came when I finally opened the small box inside the big Christmas storage box.

Over the years I have weeded out the things we no longer used, now that we don't put up a live tree anymore. So almost everything in the big box is something we like. On top, not packed very carefully, but unscratched, were three beautiful chrome candleholders in the shape of different snowflakes, another impulse purchase I don't regret. Like other lucky Americans our age, we have any number of things we like that are always out on shelves and tables, but you grow used to them. These, though, I had forgotten about, and finding them was a thrill.

But the little box was another story. Every ornament in it is handmade, except the sterling silver collectible ornaments my mother gave each kid every Christmas when she worked in the jewelry store. Here was a hanging door decoration that says Noel, green and gold. My mother's best friend, Eileen, whom I thought of as an aunt, gave it to me one year. This would have been in the early sixties, when I was a young mother.

Eileen's life was hard even then, long before two of the kids killed themselves, before she suffered a catastrophic brain injury in a fall: five kids, not enough money, a husband who traveled extensively, an alcoholic family. It occurs to me that I don't know whether she'd ever had any aspirations beyond being a wife and mother. She was a petite and cheerful woman who cherished her Irish ancestry, and did fulfill a dream of taking her father back to Ireland. There she bought a charming traditional costume, which she wore to the Sons of Ireland every St. Patrick's Day. She could do a little easy soft shoe while the band sang "Harrigan" and we all sang along, full of the enthusiasm of green beer.

Eileen found joy in her life where she could. I think now about her sitting those lonely evenings after getting the kids in bed and crocheting afghans, and making this pretty door hanger. Joy and sorrow intertwined.

There are other felt ornaments in that box. One of the happiest years, Eileen, my mother, and I gathered at my apartment to make those. Cassie was three. Her contribution was a mass of felt scraps glued together and placed in a copper scrubber: nestlings, baby birds in a nest.

So many women came to me out of that box. Here are starched cotton snowflakes crocheted by Helga, whom I knew in a cancer support group. Here is a beautifully tatted ornament given to me by a woman in the next office one drab year when I didn't have much Christmas. Here, thirty years later, is a construction-paper Christmas tree with a puffball star on top, signed Otto on the back.

There was something about this, and getting out the bayberry candles and the four different Christmas coffee mugs picked up at various garage sales back when I could still run around on nice summer days searching for wonderful finds. That was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I was foolish when I could be. . . . I started to say, pulling out this box and its decades of memories was somehow stabilizing and grounding. It has been hard to find some shelter from the general anxiety these days. But the box reminded me of all these connecting threads, how we pause for Christmas every year, and how people I loved return through their gifts, friendly ghosts to sit with me for a while by the fire.

No comments:

Post a Comment