Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Christmas Heirlooms: 52 Ancestors, #60

This one is overdue ("Heirloom" was last week's prompt), short, and not about a new ancestor. But I already blogged about my one real heirloom – an Ingraham mantel clock – in part 2 of my series about my grandfather in the original 52 Ancestors challenge. So I decided to write about some special mementos from my mother.

Each Christmas, my father would bring home a Christmas tree. Somehow it always turned out to be just a little bit too tall for our nine-foot living room ceiling and had to have the trunk trimmed a few inches. And then we'd decorate the tree. ("We" being Mamma and us kids. Daddy got the tree and set it up. The rest was up to us. There was a clear division of labor.) I don't think "themed" trees had been thought of back then, and if department stores had aisles of color-coordinated ornaments and lights, I never saw them. The boxes of decorations that had been there forever (as far as I was concerned) were brought down from the top shelves in the shed, and we began.

There was a strict order to follow. The lights went on first, ancient strings with huge bulbs and aluminum star-shaped reflectors. A few bubble lights, about 6 inches long. I'm pretty sure none of them were UL-approved. Next came the tinsel garlands and paper chains, wound around the branches between the lights. Then it was time for the glass and paper ornaments: large ones first, distributed evenly around the tree, and then the small ones to fill in the spaces. Last was the strands of tinsel or "icicles," which we were supposed to install one by one all over the tree. (We usually ended up stuffing handfuls onto the branches.) Some of that tinsel was real metal (possibly lead) foil, slowly replaced over time with static-clingy plastic ones.

The most precious of my mother's treasured ornaments were the small silvered glass balls – less than an inch across – in red, green, blue, silver, and gold. Scarce in wartime, they had been bought for Mamma and Daddy's first Christmas together, and were to be handled with the utmost care. But she also proudly displayed the ornaments that her children made for her at school, like these "bells" made from paper egg carton wells, painted and sprinkled with glitter.

The silvering in the balls is pitted and dulled with age, and some of the delicate wire hangers have been lost and replaced by clunky new ones, but Mamma was still hanging them on a downsized tree long after we had grown up and left home. I now have one of the two boxes, as well as the egg-carton "bells," in my own ornament collection. How many generations does it take to make an heirloom, anyway?

(This post was inspired by the "Heirloom" prompt for Amy Johnson Crow's 2018 "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge.)

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