Monday, February 09, 2009

Christmas in February

Tacky or charmingly retro?

Christmas ornament

I've got to go with charmingly retro--though, in fact, it isn't retro at all, but the real old McCoy.

My grandmother and the aunts sat around a card table decorating Christmas balls for years, it seems. One year, when my sister Susan and I were maybe eight and nine, we got to help.

Grandma had tons of costume jewelry on the table. Lots of garish gold ribbon. Those weird satin-wrapped Christmas balls in every color imaginable (and some, like this odd salmony color, that really aren't imaginable). By the time she and the aunts finished the project, Grandma had an entire tree's worth of Christmas balls dripping in pearls, jewels and ribbon. She hung no other ornaments on her tree after that. Grandma latched onto a tradition and kept with it forever.

Grandma died in the summer of 2001. We didn't have Christmas on our minds at the time. But off and on since then I've wondered what happened to her Christmas tree ornaments.

This year I thought of them again as I was decorating our Christmas tree. When my aunt, my dad's only sister, suddenly passed away the week after Christmas, we found ourselves with her five children in the same town where my grandmother had lived at the end of her life. I asked my cousins about Grandma's ornaments. One of them, who had helped Grandma decorate her apartment and had stored some things for her, had the ornaments in his attic. He brought down a big Rubbermaid tub filled with the individually wrapped balls from what Susan calls Grandma's bordello tree.

We unwrapped them and found them in surprisingly good shape. The jewels still shone; the glue had held; the satin ribbon on some was frayed, but most of it was intact. We told stories about Grandma and my aunt. And we divvied up the ornaments.

The one in the picture isn't for a tree. It's too big, probably 6" around. Grandma hung it from her foyer light fixture, sort of a bejeweled mistletoe ball. I also got one of the sickly salmon-colored ones--seemed perfect for the pink Christmas tree--and a gold one with lots of pearls.

Tacky? Hell, I've got a Confederate States of America cuckoo clock in my living room. What do I know from good taste?

No comments: