The fire was at the end of June. Christmas was a long way off. When it got close I had forgotten about it. One day I opened a catalog and it was full of Christmas decorations. Beautiful white and gold and filled with lights decorations. Fairy tale decorations. I literally was sick. I had forgotten about Christmas and I had forgotten about all of our Christmas treasures we had collected over two generations.
Last week when I was driving back to our temporary house from our old house site dusk was coming on and the Christmas lights were emerging like flowers blooming in the waning light of the day. My heart was torn between the pure joy at the festival of lights that lined the road and sorrow for my own missing Christmas lights.
I was clear that Christmas was not about lights or ornaments but about bringing joy into the world and the potential for peace that comes with Christmas. I reminded myself that we were in a temporary house and that it did not make much sense to decorate. I also reminded myself that the insurance money was limited and that Christmas lights had to take a back seat to new-to-us-old Subaru I was driving. When I got home I talked with my spouse about how beautiful the lights were. We talked about taking a ride to see them.
Later that evening I was still playing Christmas over in my mind. I felt little heart-tugs for the things we no longer had, feeling like we had lost part of Christmas. I thought to myself that we did not need to do anything this year since we were traveling to spend the Holidays with family. That did not help. I wanted Christmas but my heart was too sore to understand what to do.
I went to my desk to check my email and fuss with details on the house-to-be. By my monitor was a small envelope that contained a gift card my nephew and his wife gave to us. It was a very important gift and I had left it on my desk because we had been unable to commit to what we would like to purchase. Whatever we thought of always seemed less important than the gift that was given. As I looked at my monitor thinking about the span of time from house to no house to house-to-be I glanced down at the gift card and on the back of it among the stores where it could be redeemed included a Christmas store. My heart leapt. We could get Christmas, we could soothe the heart-pain I felt and add beauty to our temporary home, beauty we could take to our new home. Giving Christmas. That was a worthy gift. There were few of the Christmas Stores, none near us but the main store listed on the card had pages and pages of Christmas stuff on their website. I picked two Christmas trees that were in our price range and printed them out. This afternoon my spouse went shopping with the card and my computer printouts. He found a “Christmas Tree in a Box” that was the same amount of money as our gift card. He texted me the most beautiful photo.
Yes, yes! That is our tree. That is our Christmas we almost lost. We spent the evening putting up the Christmas tree.
Our ornaments had been consumed by the hungry fire. Each of those ornaments had a story to tell. Many were over 50 years old and some were nearly 100. Each year we would take them out and tell stories. We did not hang all of them. That would have taken a tree worthy of Rockefeller Center. Sometimes we just kept hanging ornaments until we had no tree left. Other years we would pick through them and decide on a theme. We did gold with white lights several times. We had crystal icicles that we had collected over the years. Sometimes we had white lights and the crystal icicles. We had scores of little instruments that were for our “music tree.”
We had so many ornaments because I came from a family that gave especially selected Christmas ornaments to each other. Each year we would receive 2 or 3 or 4 or more ornaments from Santa and from relatives and friends. The history of our lives were in those ornaments. My spouse came from the beautifully-colored-Christmas-ball-with-no-story group. When we made our first Christmas together we blended the ornaments that carried stories with Christmas balls that were beautiful. It was our Christmas, it was our story.
Like so many families, our history could be told by the accumulation of Christmas decorations.
This year we had no ornaments and in a sense, no history. I went around the house and found left-over fancy ribbon I had purchased for Sophie to put on a sleeping mat. I found a package of green rick-rack that came in a sewing box I bought over ebay. I put both on the tree and they were not really festive. I considered taking them off and just enjoying the lights. We went off to dinner. Later I was doing a quick cleanup of the den and found a long green ribbon I had forgotten about. It has been tied around a set of sheets we purchased. I then remembered I had some scraps from making Sophie’s pink bed and made these into ribbons. I took one of the paint rags that I had bought and cut it into strips to use as white bows for the tree. I thought of a little tin tea strainer that still sat forlornly in the back of the van where it had been deposited as we sifted through the ashes in June. It is burned and oddly shaped but I thought, “it should go on the tree.” I went and got it and then embarked on a tour of the house picking from out things items that had important new stories to tell.
I gathered things I have written about in this blog. There were the plastic cups I found in the van that were from my now 20 year old niece’s 8th birthday party. I found a cereal bowl with a beautiful flower on it that my sister had helped me pick only a few days after the fire. When I went to the store I had intended to buy from the marked off plastic picnic items and she gently helped me understand that I needed more permanence than that. I gathered up the beautiful tea pot my friend sent to me. I gathered a tea cup from the set of antique dishes that other friends gave us. I gathered a colander that we bought the day after the fire. I gathered for a Christmas tree skirt the granny square quilt that my mom had given to a friend who sent it to us after the fire. I gathered the little bunny salt shaker that was my grandmother’s. That little bunny was one of the few things that survived the fire. Her white, glossy, bunny coat is burned to clay with streaks of red from the fire retardant that was dropped by air. She scared as she is, she sits strong and proud under the tree.
I came to our crystal. We had collected over many years Waterford Crystal. We had extremely limited means for the first decade of our marriage. We would pick one piece of Waterford and save for it and then give it to each other as a gift. It did not seem strange to us that we gave each other the same gift. It was something beautiful and we loved it. As years and fortunes grew, our Waterford collection grew. We bought it in pairs, not one glass at a time. People gave it to us for gifts. When my sister came two days after the fire she brought us two pieces of her own Waterford to help fill the holes in our hearts. Since then we found pieces on ebay and they joined the in-gathering of things from which we are rebuilding our lives. Some of the pieces that had chips in them and were deemed useless by others. They were not useless to us, they were like us. They had chips and cracks but were still beautiful. I spent time reshaping the chips and cracks glasses. They and we were joined together in a new life.
One of the results of buying Waterford on ebay, and wanting to buy the least expensive ones, was that we accidentally ended up with 9 cordial glasses. Cordials are little servings of sweet liquor that are meant for sipping after dinner. There are special little cordial glasses. Five of the glasses were supposed to have been larger sherry glasses but when they arrived we
had more cordials. I tied one of the hurt ones on the tree. It looked like a graceful crystal bell, its stem hidden in the branches of the tree. I went to the shelf and brought out the rest of our cordial and four small sherry glasses and tied them on to the tree with my leftover pink fabric. I called to my spouse to come look at our crystal bells on the tree. He looked at me, confused not being able to account for small bells. I pointed to the stem of one of the glasses. He burst out laughing. We enjoyed a moment of unbridled joy.
In that laughter, there was no fire that had tried to burn beauty from our lives. There was beauty transformed–from wine glass to bell. The world was turned upside down but it was beautiful and we could see that it was crystal clear. Our tree this year is a tree with a story to tell just as it has always has been. It started out as a Christmas tree in a box and became a Christmas tree to remember.