I pull the boxes of ornaments from the closet and prepare myself for a trip into the past. A photo album can’t bring back as many memories as my box of ornaments does. Like a picture, each ornament contains a memory.
There’s the box of wooden ones, handmade and painted with care. Within the assortment is a small man on skis, a mouse on a swing, even Santa in his sleigh. I remember when Georgia and I bought them. It was our first Christmas as a married couple. We hung them on the tree and dreamed how our future children would love them.
I pick up a ceramic Santa. My aunt gave it to me when I was four. He holds a tiny box in his hands. There’s a tear in its wrapper, a tear caused by a boy who couldn’t contain his curiosity.
A tiny brass bell is next. My brothers and I had fun with this bell. We took turns hiding it in the tree. The others had to find it. We played “Find the Bell,” until mom yelled at us for shaking the tree to make the bell ring and reveal its hiding spot.
Mom knew how much the bell meant to me. The year I had my own family, she gave me the bell. I played the same game with my children.
I pick up a pretty red ball. My daughter touched it when she was two. We’d put Vanessa down for her nap and decorated while she slept. We wanted to surprise her. When we finished, I sat back with a glass of eggnog and waited for her to wake.
I see her face again. She ran from her room, fully charged and ready to take on the world. She was five feet from the tree, before she looked up and stopped. Her eyes opened wide. Her jaw dropped open, as she emitted a small cry of delight. She walked forward, raised her hand, and touched a red ball—the ball I now hold in my hand.
She turned to me. Her eyes reflected the colored lights. “Daddy, what is it?”
“It’s Christmas, Sweetie.” My voice quivered with emotion, “It’s Christ’s birthday. We’re going to celebrate it.”
Her sparkling eyes, hanging jaw, and soft skin made me hold my arms out. She ran into them and gave me a hug that could melt even Scrooge’s hard heart.
I pick up a cracked green ball, a veteran of the first time I allowed my kids to decorate the tree. They hung all the balls on one branch. When they turned for another, I quickly moved the one before it to a better spot. I laughed when they told Grandma they decorated all by themselves.
Near the bottom of the box, I find a brass plaque. It brings back a special memory. It has my son’s name and birth date on it. Justin was supposed to be a New Year’s Eve baby, but he decided he wasn’t going to miss Christmas.
Justin was three weeks old, when we took him to the Christmas Eve service at our church. That night, our minister explained to us the real meaning of Christmas. As she spoke, she wandered down the aisle and stopped beside us. She reached down and asked, “May I?” I nodded and handed him to her. She lifted him into her arms.
She was quiet as she walked back to face the congregation. Turning, she held my son high and said, “This is the real meaning of Christmas: The birth of a new life!”
She cradled my son as she spoke, but my emotions caused a ringing in my ears, which prevented me from hearing her. Tears glistened on my cheeks, as she walked around the sanctuary, displaying my son to those gathered for the Christmas service. To me, the room was empty of everyone but her and my family. Overtaken with emotion, I reached out, hugged Georgia and Vanessa to my side, and thought, “This will be a Christmas to remember.”
In 2003, I pulled the ornaments out again. Justin and I were not going to be home for Christmas that year. We were going to spend Christmas with friends in Ohio, but I wanted Christmas to be the way it always was. I wanted Christmas to be the way Justin remembered.
Georgia died two months earlier. Justin and I were alone in New Jersey. Vanessa was in Ohio. It had to be the way it was before. The tree had to be perfect. The decorations had new meaning that Christmas. The memories of her death were raw, but the tree overcame them. A tear trickled from my eye. Good things may pass, but their memories hang on.
A year later, I hung a new ornament on our tree. It was one I got for Ginny. It’s a penguin. She loves penguins. The next year, I had one she gave me to hang. It’s a frosted ball with a penguin dressed in an Ohio State football colors—my favorite team. New pages added to my album.
Every year, I hang my personal album for all to see, sit back, and relax. For several weeks, I’ll search my memory tree, until I find my special spot. I don’t know where it is, but I know it’s there—a spot where light shines perfectly on one or two balls and reflects off a length of tinsel. It’s perfect in every way.
I lock my eyes on it, enjoy its beauty. And I relive my life. It’s there for all to enjoy. I invite you to share it with me. Look at the ornaments. Flip the pages. Share my life. It’s my memory tree.