My autobiography will not be written on a computer, or disseminated in the form of a kindle file. It exists already in the collection of ornaments that have been lovingly cared for, some since before I was born.
My earliest Christmas memories are of decorating the tree with my mother. We would usually do this on a Friday or Saturday evening in December, with Christmas music playing in the background, and both of us singing along, my mother with… great enthusiasm.
As each ornament came out of the layers of tissue paper, my mother would tell me the story of where it came from. “This is the Santa Claus your grandfather brought home from Germany after the war,” she would say, or “this was attached to your very first Christmas present ever.”
Every year, our collection would increase by an ornament or two, usually as a souvenir of somewhere we went, or something we had done. As I grew older, the ornaments began to reflect my interests as well. The ice skates (both Mom and I love skating) were joined by books, hats, and an array of musical instruments. When Fuzzy proposed to me over my Christmas visit to South Dakota, my mother’s initial response was congratulatory, and then wistful: “I guess I’ll have to wrap your ornaments separately this year.”
Twenty Christmases later, my collection of ornaments has grown exponentially. Our first tree was barely full, and the tree we had in our condo was three feet tall and in a pot. This year, we have a pre-lit plastic tree with seven million tips (this may be an exaggeration) that is seven and a half feet tall (that is not an exaggeration), and I still feel like there aren’t enough branches.
Last year, my mother sent some of her collection to me; she was downsizing to accommodate her smaller house and slightly advanced age (she’ll be 66 in February), and it was a kind of virtual reunion, seeing some old favorites and meeting some new pieces from her life in Mexico.
I’ve never done a count of all my ornaments – there are more than a hundred and less than five thousand – but I know when one is missing, as if a paragraph or a chapter was accidentally deleted from a favorite novel.
My ornaments are my story, my autobiography, told in red and green, wood and glass, and set against a background of pine.