I was packing the last two boxes of holiday decorations. I save the packing of the ornaments for last. They usually come off the trees on a Sunday, migrate to the dining room table for removal of the hooks, and, a few days later, I start putting them back into the tissue paper they hailed from just a month and a half before.
I was putting the finishing layers – three per box - into both boxes at once and said to my husband and son, “If I dropped dead tomorrow, you guys would never open these again, would you?” They were only one room away, clicking busily on their computers, when the dove-tailed answers hit. “No.” Maybe one of them mumbled, “Probably not.”
These boxes hold memories. When I unpack them right after Thanksgiving, they rest on the dining room table – out of their protective wraps – while I stare at them and repair unglued joints. I remember tiny hands that made some, and this year I revisited memories of a long gone sister and the two things I have that she made as a child. I walk leisurely down memory lane during the busiest month of my year.
A few days later, when the three of us go to hang them all, I take a few minutes to point out several to my son that have real significance - my grandmother’s stitches, my great-aunt’s crochet work, his grandfather’s paint strokes, and his aunt’s ability with clay. I try not to overwhelm and have learned that four shout outs one night a year is the maximum for possible retention.
I don’t really know if the boxes would ever be opened by the two men I live with. A woman would open them if left in her care. She would wait a year. Or more. Then, one cold morning, she would brace herself with a box of tissues and her courage and rip those suckers open. She would visit each piece like a tongue lingers on tooth pain. Delicately, so as not to wince, moan or cry out.
I packed it all away. Again. The entire process is cathartic to me. I have many people to visit with at my dining table all year long at a myriad of events, celebrations and holidays. But the places and the people I can’t have back come delicately to me in December in the form of pinecones, angels, dogs, and snowmen. I touch them all. Hang them up to breathe. Live with them. Then, I let them go.
p.s. Full disclosure: This is not our tree featured with my son and me in the photo. This tree graces the lobby at The Rep every year during the seasonal run of “A Christmas Carol”. We visit it.