I have taken down most of my Christmas decorations and packed the ornaments away under the stairs in a plastic box with a green lid. On the lid is a label made of masking tape on which one of my sons once wrote the words, “Traditional Ornaments” in his confident childscript. It always makes me smile, wondering what the word “traditional” means to an eight-year-old. This year I decided to take the time to sort through everything and only pack away those things that still bring me joy. The rest I may sell on Ebay or give away to friends and family. I had already mailed away two small boxes of ornaments and lights to my sons before Christmas. Both have recently moved into new apartments and do not have money to spend on anything frivolous; I thought they might enjoy some of the ornaments we used to hang on our tree when they lived at home. I hope they found some joy in the objects; it was not my intent to burden them with mere possessions.
When I was young, I enjoyed collecting Christmas ornaments to commemorate travels or special moments of my life, and I looked forward to unwrapping the memories each year when I put up my tree. The year my dad moved out, my mother and I both put up live trees for the first time (one in my bedroom and one in the living room), and I bought several ornaments from an import shop in Lexington, Kentucky, for my very own tree: a wooden crèche inside a walnut half; angels made of tiny pinecones spray-painted gold; a small wooden dwarf with a long beard, a tiny pipe, and wire glasses; and several dozen small golden balls. Each year after that I would add to the collection, but I never wrote down where I got each ornament or what it was supposed to commemorate, thinking I would never forget. The years my first husband and I lived in the antique store on a tree-lined street named Rosemont Gardens, I kept the ornaments out year round, on small ledges that lined the kitchen walls and were intended for displaying decorative plates; I was devastated when our puppy chewed up an entire set of German musicians carved out of native woods, leaving only one tiny violin undamaged.For a while, I looked for a replacement set but never saw another just like it.
As I sort through the ornaments, it is most difficult to know what to do with the angels, beginning with the littlest baby angel, a wee blond thing cradled in the crest of the moon, acquired the Christmas after our daughter Megan was stillborn one silent day in May. The following year another baby angel decked our tree, this time a red-headed boy sitting on an acrylic cloud, after we lost our son Morgan in October. And every year after, angels continued to arrive in pairs: ceramic baby angels swinging on candy canes, country angels wearing gingham, angels woven out of straw, paper-mâché angels in stiff gowns, batiked angels, angels embroidered with shiny red threads in China, angels molded out of clear plastic, shimmering gold angels, dazzling glass angels. If they had lived, by now Megan would be twenty-six, Morgan twenty-five. When I meet new people and they ask how many children I have, I still pause (wanting to blurt out “four”) before answering, “two: a son who is thirty and a son who is twenty-three,” all the while seeing the shadowy outlines of their siblings in the space between.