Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Life in an ornament

We haven't had a tree at the farm since we moved here in 2004. I had become somewhat lazy about Christmas in the past 10 years or so. I felt if you can't keep in touch with people during the year, that cramming gifts and parties and cards into one week, with people you don't have a daily relationship seemed very contrived. Christmas is all year or it isn't in my mind. And I had started the ritual of sharing my message on New Year's or January, when the whole year sits waiting, breathing, anticipating all my steps and missteps.

But this year, Martyn really wanted a tree, and I went right along with it. And since Huck is now a well mannered gent, we thought there was little chance of his tail taking the tree down in one wag. The fire was made, the music was cued to Louis Armstrong's Christmas songs, and Martyn was cooking something with butter and garlic in the kitchen. Perfect tree decorating ambiance. I conquered the lights with ease, which was shocking, but I was quite please with myself. I brought out all the jeweled fruit that I'd invested in for my first Christmas in Oregon - grapes, lemons, apples, pears and kiwis. They look wonderful in the lights and I liked the natural theme of ornaments mimicking earth's bounty. I added the white birds to remind me of freedom, and hope.

I thought the tree looked just right, but there was one more box of ornaments I hadn't opened. It was the box of ornaments passed on to me from my parents, most of them vintage pieces from before I was born. A few years back when they moved, they had stopped doing a holiday tree, so felt I'd enjoy them in my new life in Oregon. I looked at the box and hesitated to open it - so many connections to the little silver fishes and stars inside. Even the hooks were as old as me. They were so carefully wrapped, and I began opening them just to look at them. But as I opened one after another, I had vintage movies playing in my head, that made me happy in a melancholy way. Images of the many house we lived in and my brother and I decorating the tree, the various dogs we had that would be at our feet as we decorated. We'd have a plate of cookies near by, no doubt.

But there were four ornaments I really hesitated to open. I knew them by their larger round shape, still wrapped in tissue for protection. The year my parents were married, my father's mother had two ornaments made, one for my dad and one for my mom. Their names were hand painted on the creamy glazed porcelain balls, and the year, 1956. Each ornament had little hand painted items, symbolizing each person's hobbies or life. When my brother was born the following year, my grandmother made him an ornament too. Sadly the following March, my grandmother died, only hours before I was born. But that following Christmas of 1958, my mother had an ornament made for me with a little pink dinosaur painted on it, with braids, my favorite toy.

But it was my father's ornament I happened to reopen first this nite of tree decorating. "Bob", "1956" was painted on the round ball along with an image of his Siamese cat named Anna. And of course, a pipe. He always smoked a pipe. I looked at that ornament for seconds, held it, and thought of all the trees it had hung on in it's 53 years. We always treated those four ornaments with respect, and even though they didn't cost that much, they were invaluable in memory and how they were given. I got a little sad, then emotional for a few seconds as I looked at my dad's ornament, but that's okay. It was just love pinching me a little. I didn't put those ornaments on the tree this year. Just looking at them again brought me many happy memories, but the tree I decorated was a tree that held ornaments soaking up new memories, with my husband, and Huck at my feet.

When my father died almost two years ago, my mother in law wrote me a lovely note, and said that since her father died some 40 years earlier she had thought of him every day in one way or another. At first I thought that was quite depressing. But it isn't. I do think of my father every day, in so many small ways. Some days the thoughts linger, and some days I just wish I could have a cup of coffee with him. But mostly, I just think of him and go about the day. Materialism doesn't lead to happiness, it never has and never will. But a simple object can hold a lifetime in it, and bring back moments of true love. Or to say it more accurately, true love for another person never fades and can bring any object to life.