December 2, 2006
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it.
and when the time comes to let it
to let it go.
— Mary Oliver, b. 1935
American poet, from “In Blackwater Woods”
Ron and I were married in August of 1983. We’d met on December 30 the year before, a year neither of us had bothered with a tree or decorations. For our first Christmas together I bought a Lenox ornament, a wreath in the same ivory and gold china as my dinnerware. I hung it on the tree with a few other things that I no longer remember. The tree did look sparsely adorned, but the idea was that every year another ornament would be added and the beauty of the decorated tree would grow along with our relationship.
When Lynn was born in 1985, Ron’s parents gave her a Lenox teddy bear ornament. They continued to give her a child-themed Lenox ornament year after year, and when Ron’s mother was no longer able to shop for the piece herself, she asked me to do it for her. The idea was that when Lynn finished school and was established in her own home, she would have a lovely assortment of ornaments for her first tree.
So the collection began growing two ornaments at a time. Other things found their way onto the tree — a cross-stitch ballerina with a music box sewn inside that I made when Lynn started ballet, a hand-made wooden sled with her name on it that a DeAngelis family friend made for her, even though he would never meet her. He’d known Ron’s parents for many years and had made similar ornaments for Ron’s other three children. It wasn’t long before I had to make a list of whose collection had which, and carry the paper with me when I went shopping, because I couldn’t remember them all.
On Thursday I got out my list and checked it twice. Forty-four Lenox ornaments plus about two dozen others now rest in the drawer of the living room highboy. There really isn’t room for much more in there, and the tree, while not exactly crowded, does have a full look.
The department store I parked near happened to be offering Lenox Christmas ware at 40% off, so I was committed to buying something there. It seems to me that Lenox has gotten away from the traditional look in recent years. Or maybe it’s just that I have all of the ornaments in that style. I really don’t want to start adding foolish-looking cartoon characters (although I do like the Lenox moose on skates that I got to remind me of Vermont). Nor do I want to start in on Lenox’s newer line of crystal pieces.
It didn’t take me long to find one for us — another representation of the cardinals that Lenox uses on their Winter Greetings line. They remind me of the cardinals that feed at the tree I watch nearly every day as I sit at the kitchen table and write.
And it didn’t take long to find one for Lynn. I’d begun the day feeling a little sad that our lives are changing so much. We’re scheduling our tree-trimming and annual ceremonial watching of the Dragnet Christmas episode around her needs (and the new boyfriend’s) to finish semester work and prepare for finals, and we’ll be on a tight schedule tomorrow — tree-trimming at four, dinner at five, dessert and Dragnet at six, out the door by six-forty-five, love you, drive safely, good-night.
In my spiritual life I’ve been working hard at accepting change. And I think I’m making progress. Lynn said that she and her roommates are going to have a small tree. I chose an ornament that looks like the gate at a grand estate. The gate stands slightly ajar, and the piece is etched with the words “First Year in the New House.” Lynn’s house at college is a cramped two-bedroom townhouse just steps from the street, but it’s hers and the door stands open at her feast.
Our tree will have only one new ornament this year. I want Lynn to take her ornament away with her, for her own tree.