Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Every ornament tells a Christmas tale

PANAMA CITY — I don’t know about your Christmas tree, but ours is full of holiday stories. It has been described as looking like a toy shop exploded all over it, and that’s not far from true. It definitely is a reflection of the things we enjoy and the memories we hold dear.

There are heroes and spacecraft from “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” superheroes and heroines, TV and movie icons from Humphrey Bogart to Jimmy Stewart to “The Lone Ranger” and “I Dream of Jeanie.” There are memorial ornaments for those loved ones we have lost, as well as ornaments celebrating our first Christmas as a couple and the first Christmases for our babies.

Some of them light up. Some of them make sounds. Some of them just hang there looking pretty. The one for “It’s a Wonderful Life” has a bell that rings each time an angel gets his wings.

The oldest item on the tree is a small plastic reindeer, once white but now faded to yellow. I last wrote about this artifact of Christmas Past almost a decade ago, but I retell its history every year as someone new sees our tree for the first time — or just to make my kids sigh, “Yes, Dad, we know.”

Back in the days of black-and-white television, Grandma Simmons had an arrangement of four of these little coursers attached by thin red ribbon to a white plastic sleigh. They generally occupied a windowsill or a tabletop through the holidays. And when I was just a tadpole, I would sometimes use the sleigh and reindeer to transport my Major Matt Mason dolls around the living room.

At some point during my elementary school years, Grandma passed the sleigh and two of the surviving deer to me. I don’t know what happened to the rest of the set, but only this single deer remains — fragile, yellowed, with a broken antler and chipped snout, and stains of dried invisible tape around its torso.

Each year, I perch it in a place of honor close to the top of my family’s Christmas tree. It catches the lights and seems to glow.

Other ornaments on our tree have stories, too. The silvery “Joy” that hangs near the deer, for instance. The Scarlet O’Hara figurines that passed to us from my other Grandma. The “Enterprise,” and the Snoopies, and the Harry Potter. My kids have their favorites, and my wife has hers.

The reindeer is mine. I place it on a limb and fall through a doorway to childhood Christmastimes, and not in a melancholy way like you might get from that old “Toyland” song. I miss Grandma, yes, but the memories are warm and filled with smiles.

These stories are important. They connect us with our past. They put the future in perspective. Someday, I figure, some item I gave someone will be a story told to a great-grandchild, a smile recalled, a gift cherished. I might be a faceless memory by then, but I will remain part of that story so long as it is told.

What story will you be a part of? How will you be remembered? What yellowed artifacts will carry your story into unknown days and plant themselves in the memories of generations yet unborn?

Peace (on earth).

(This is my Undercurrents column for Dec. 15, 2011.)

EDIT: After this column initially ran, my father sent me these photos from Christmas 1952, showing him as an 11-year-old and the complete Santa's sleigh and eight reindeer as they originally appeared.)
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