Tragedy struck this past weekend as I participated in the tradition of decorating our Christmas tree. I should have known what was to come when the cheap plastic base of our fake tree snapped, sending a thankfully empty bundle of green plastic needles and wire crashing to the floor.
Never mind my distaste for fake trees – that’s a subject for another time. All you need to know is that I inherited this tree when I married my husband – it has been in his life longer than me, and as with most such relics from his bachelor days, the fake tree is sacred. However, now that tree was showing its lineage as a “made in China” cheap plastic model, with a broken base. I immediately attacked it with duct tape. After several attempts, much swearing (sorry Mom!), and a bruised knuckle, I stood back to admire my handiwork.
It was a sorry sight – the tree now leans noticeably to one side. But at least it was standing, and two full days of purposefully bumping in a test of its soundness failed to topple it. I now began to contemplate the lights.
Mark hates stringing lights, probably just as much as he hates washing dishes, the pinnacle of detested chores. He leaves the lights on the tree year-round and stores the tree upright in our basement, taking up precious storage space, just so he can avoid the yearly ritual of untangling lights. So when I plugged in the lowest strand and two sections of the tree failed to light up, I inwardly groaned and set about unraveling the lights myself.
Somehow, over the years, the lights had tangled into a Rube Goldberg-esque puzzle of cause and effect, with some strands woven into others, in a pattern that escaped my notice until I had to physically untangle the entire web. Then, when I was thoroughly frustrated with wrestling the tree and had finally restrung the remaining working lights, I discovered another strand of lights had inexplicably blinked out. Needless to say, three attempts later, when the lights all lit up in that tense moment of plugging the socket into the wall outlet, I cheered.
I thought all my trials and tribulations were over, that I could finally settle into savoring the magic that usually surrounds decorating the tree with all our cherished childhood ornaments. I was wrong.
The first ornament I unwrapped I had received when I was 9 years old, a little baked dough ornament of a female soccer player. It was the height of my love affair with soccer, when I was just beginning to play the position of goalkeeper exclusively and dreamed one day of joining the national women’s team. So I love this ornament, because like most things with memories attached, it reignites all my feelings of that time, so long ago, when the world was bright and exciting.
I carefully unwrapped the tissue and gasped. My baked dough ornament had burst open and was colonized with mold. I immediately cursed the Midwest’s summer humidity, which must be the culprit, and resigned myself to the fact it is beyond saving. My soccer girl is now riding in the bowels of the garbage truck.
As I placed another cherished childhood ornament, my ceramic carousel horse, onto the tree, the hook broke. On its tumble to the floor, one of the hooves broke off. My husband immediately pointed out that we can glue the hoof back on. Okay, I can deal. So we move on.
Bu then the tragedy of all tragedies. I lovingly unwrap my hand-painted egg-shell ornament from the Czech Republic.
And burst into tears.
A little piece falls out of the side and a long crack curves half-way around the shell. Somehow, miraculously, the shell is still holding together. But it is cracked. The last straw of last straws. Here is the ornament I hand-carried across Eastern Europe last year, through airport security and on three flights, all the way home. It made in intact. And now, inexplicably, it is cracked. I cannot contain the tears.
In retrospect, I remind myself it is just an ornament, a thing, an object that can one day be replaced. Yet I am emotionally upset. This little ornament, like all of the ornaments carefully hand-picked by my parents as I grew up, is a vessel of memories. It is a memory place card for a specific time and moment in my life, which allows me to, in a way, time travel back. By holding that egg-shell ornament, so delicately painted in greens and blues, I find myself in the streets of Old Town Prague, browsing the crafts of Havelska Market, breathing in the smoky scents of roasting sausage and serenaded by a Gypsy folk band.
It is my memory that has been cracked, not an egg-shell, and it hurts so much I cry.