When I talk passionately and effusively about my Christmas tree, my friends all smile and nod indulgently. They too have beautiful trees, beautifully decorated and beautifully lit. It’s true, they do.
But my tree is more to me. It’s existence is essential, and it is unequal to anything else I do. If I have no visitors, if in the future we must spend the holidays separated from our sons and their families, I will nonetheless expend the Herculean effort of decorating our tree. Even if my energy wanes as I grow old, and I am no longer able to climb the ladder to hang ornaments 12-13 feet up I will simply have theme trees all around the house. ‘What a waste of time!’ you say? Well, that is your opinion and you are entitled to it, but it has absolutely no influence on me.
You see, I have had a wonderful, wonderful life, blessed far beyond my expectations. Yet I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. So much good karma will surely be balanced by disaster. This was the lesson of my childhood. The wolves are always just on the other side of the door scratching to get in.
Every ornament is a memory of a spectacular life, a past that cannot be taken from me no matter what happens. If I lose everything (don’t bother saying it can’t happen; it happened to my parents), then I have a tree full of ornaments to remind me where I have been, what I have seen, how many people have loved me and how many people I have loved. The ornaments on my Christmas tree are a tangible testament to a life well-lived, and not only my life, but the memories of many others.
I have mentioned before the mouse ornament that hangs front and center on my tree every year. On December 23, 1983, Steve gave it to me wrapped because the box was just the right size for the engagement ring he knew I was expecting, a ring that he pulled out of his pocket at dinner that night. That night I stopped being Beth Bainbridge and became Beth Warstadt for the rest of my life (though we weren’t married until July). Not just my name, but my entire identity changed. I was then and forevermore Steve Warstadt’s wife. It was the point of creation for our family; it’s Big Bang.
Our “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments, represent another evolution in my identity as well as Steve’s. From the points of their births, really from the moments of their conceptions, we were Kevin and Brian’s mom and dad. That is who we are until the ends of our lives. Those ornaments form the foundation for all of those that have joined the collection because ‘my heart walks forever outside my body,’ and some of my favorites are the ones they made and brought home with such pride and enthusiasm. I love them, every one, from the early cardboard Christmas trees with sequins to the fur capped Grinch made from a painted light bulb. I particularly cherish those with their pictures, from days when they were toe-headed and missing teeth, my precious, precious boys.
I have the first ornament my best friend, Cathy, gave me in high school: a sand dollar with holly painted on it. She remains my best girlfriend, and I now have a collection of treasures she has given me over the years. My particular favorites are the blown glass flying saucer, ballerina elephant and space shuttle. Where does she find them? It’s a gift.
Then there are the travel souvenirs. Our honeymoon and 10th anniversary in Hilton Head. Our twentieth anniversary in England. New ones from this year’s cruise to Alaska. Pittsburg. San Francisco. Baltimore. Summer vacations with Steve’s mother in Sanibel. The year I couldn’t go to Sanibel because my mom had a heart attack, and Steve and the boys brought me ornaments filled with sand and shells. My sister’s flashing ball from Las Vegas. The Angel of the Battlefield from Fredricksburg, Virginia. The Smithsonian. A dozen from Disney. More and more and more. Beautiful places, amazing times.
Shall I go on? How about the ones that represent all of our many interests? Chewbacca. The Emperor. Boba Fett. Frodo. Gandalf. Perfectly crafted baseball, mitt, and bat. Kevin’s elephants, eagles, turtles and dinosaurs. Brian’s dragon. Countless items of Coca-Cola memorabilia. Zoo Atlanta. The Mets. The Braves. The Cubs. Football. Les Miserables. Etc and so on.
And though I haven’t been Beth Bainbridge for 30 years I haven’t forgotten where I came from. I cherish the ornaments that were on my grandmother’s tree because she was my Christmas buddy. We decorated her tree together every year. I have three boxes of Shiny Brites that we put on my family’s tree every year, bought when they were still $5 a box instead of the $30 or more that they are now.
I could go on and on, but now is the time to put it all away. Every year I sort them on the dining room table and put them away by theme, many in their original boxes. I’m afraid that when I am gone my boys will just give up on the chaos, so the last few years I have labeled the most important ones with their stories.
Passionate? Yes. A little crazy? Probably. Happy? Absolutely. Until next year…Happy 2014 to all!