A lifetime of Christmases.

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My Mom gifted each of her kids a Christmas ornament every year.  Many of the ones from the 60’s and 70’s were lovingly handmade.  Each was carefully labeled with our name and year, using some NASA-calibre tape that has held on all these years.  I pulled them out this year and reminisced on the story they tell.

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My first one, top-left, was an angel head (angels were a recurring theme), handmade by Mom, who was living in a trailer in a god-forsaken frozen tundra during a blizzard with four kids under the age of 5 1/2, one a newborn.

Another notable one was a handmade dove of peace, made the Christmas after she buried her second child.  I think the bird must have had special meaning for her.

A styrofoam-topped ice cream cone, with hand-stitched felt, was our ornament the Christmas of the year Colleen was born.  Followed by a mischievous elf on a bell for Francine’s first Christmas (appropriate, in hindsight).

A golden satin angel with a foil halo, also handmade, bears a label written in my little-kid cursive handwriting.  I must have been “helping” her that year.

I did the honors the year that I took shop, making festive wooden shapes for me and my siblings using a bandsaw and a drill press.  Apparently, sanding was not covered in shop that year.

Noreen got in on the fun the year she was an exchange student, bringing home colorful ball ornaments from Japan.

The year we moved overseas, we spent Christmas in a barren apartment with loaner furniture from the airbase, as all our earthly possessions were being shipped over on a (very) slow boat from the States.  In years since, Mom always remarked that she felt bad about Christmas that year for us.   I expect it was hardest for her.  But, nevertheless, she gave us each a Hummel ball ornament that year – she loved Hummels.

A wooden toy horse was the ornament the year Brian left for college, spending that in the USA with Noreen.

The next few ornaments were from Christmases when I was away at college, the first one of which Colleen and Fran were still living overseas with Mom and Dad.  It must have been weird for them to be the only ones home for Christmas that year, before moving back to the States.

A few years later, I was the one that moved away, across the country, for what turned out to be forever.  Mom still gave me an ornament when I came home from wherever I lived each Christmas.  She kept a handwritten list up to date, and stored them for me in a box until I took them with me one year – I can’t remember which one.  Then I became the caretaker of the ornaments and the list.  I don’t hang many of these up, because they are so old, but each one is very special to me.

Thank you, Mom. ❤

The urge to purge.

IMG_8911After mom’s funeral, I stayed on another month, expressly to help sort through the myriad of papers and things.  It took that long because there was so much to look through, and also because I looked at each thing.  Some things documented a memory of my mom & dad’s.  But many also documented one of my own memories – each of which I relived as I uncovered something new.   In the end, the task was completed.   What was left was no small pile of boxes of papers that needed to be shredded.  I googled “mobile shredding service” and found one that would come to a residence with a shredding truck and shred all documents right then and there in the presence of the customer.  We had enough to fill a 100 gallon bin, and it cost around $130.  Not bad.

Now that I am home I, too, feel a need to purge the boxes of records documenting the last 30+ years of my own life.  And so, I’ve begun.  I started with the oldest first.  And, I think perhaps that was not the most expedient approach, because I find my progress slowed by the recall of long buried memories as I looked through each item I’ve saved:

  • Transcripts from college documenting the high and low points of my academic journey.
  • College medical bills for stress induced stomatitis, birth control pills (ironically), mono, painful dental work and… the mumps, no less.
  • Plane ticket receipts for every back and forth leg of my life’s path, so far.
  • Student loans and paystubs from jobs to help me barely get by.
  • Car repair invoices for the junkers that got me from one place to the next until I could afford a real car.
  • Applications to graduate schools; knowing now, but having no idea back then, what the profound impact that choice would make on the direction of my life.
  • Phone bills showing in detail each and every call I made home….every couple of days…some for just a few minutes, some for a half hour or more.  Records that bear witness to my committment to keep a close relationship with my family over the years.  This especially touched me because when I came across the annual Christmas letters my mom sent out after I had gone off for college, in the blurb where she wrote about what I was doing, she would always add her wish that I would be moving back to be near the family.  Which I never did.  And that still makes a part of me sad.
  • Graduation documents, job interview letters and interview trips.  Job offer letters from some prospective employers.  The letter of the job offer I eventually decided to accept, which took me even farther from home, and further wove the fabric of my future.
  • Bank statements from a variety of banks, different ones as I moved from one place to the next – one showing all the money that I had to my name (unpaid student loans not withstanding) on my first day of work of my professional career:  $1067.   I must confess that seeing that got the tears rolling for me.  I was simply overwhelmed at how far I have come from that day, and the staggering amount of hard work it has taken to live my American dream.   I had forgotten.   It also reminded me of how my father and my mom’s father immigrated to this country on their own life journies, each with a hundred or so dollars in his pocket, to live out their American dreams.

I’ve gone on too long.  But I guess the point is that they don’t call it a “purge” for nothing.   The process of purging those papers from your past can end up being an emotional purge as well.  So, if you’re up for it, join in, grab some kleenex, and find a mobile shredding service near you.

Time capsule.  

We spent a long weekend together – my sisters, brother and me.  Time to empty the house.  We stayed at mom’s house together and shared feelings, memories, and laughs while going through a lifetime of keepsakes and all manner of things. 

A poem I wrote at age 12:

The Tide. 

Pouncing endlessly on the weary, defenseless shore of sand and rocks.  Constantly charging and retreating, high tide or low.  The tide never sleeps, but sometimes weakens to a slow, silent creep. Always bringing in waves that turn into a frothing, white foam.  The shore can never rest from this endless beating; never. 

Yeah.  It’s not Shakespeare. 🙂  I found a number of my poems – long forgotten.  Ironically many are about some aspect of Nature.  But maybe that’s not ironic after all. 

So much stuff.  Preserved in time for 50+ years.   Birth announcements, funeral prayer cards, decades of pictures, letters, cards, gifts, momentos… points in time defining the lives of my mom and dad and all they held dear. 

1st or 2nd grade, maybe?

  
But I digress.  We made a dent in it and have a garage full of neatly packed bags and boxes for donation, shredding, recycling and trash. 

I spent the day today with Fran and kids – geocaching in what turned out to be a downpour.  We got soaked but found every cache in the park.  At one point we came across 3 big woodpeckers.  They didn’t sit still, so I didn’t get much of a shot.  But, here ’tis.   

I wish you all a peaceful week.