My Christmas ornaments were destroyed in hurricane Sandy. They were stored in the back shed in what I thought was watertight containers. When the storm surge came everything was knocked around. Between the salt water and the mud, they didn’t stand a chance.
Where I live, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m still in my house, which is more than I can say for most of my neighbors. During the past two months, their moldy wet belongings were taken to the curb. Their houses are gutted and they are scattered who knows where.
Compared to that, what’s a few decorations?
Besides, I’m not one of those people who loves Christmas. Sometimes the holidays overwhelm me. And you can always buy new ornaments, right?
CVS had a giant tube of color balls for 15 bucks. For a moment I thought about buying it. I even thought about splurging and getting a few of those hand-blown glass balls.
But it wouldn’t be the same. A tree with all new decorations would be like the ones in the department stores – nice to look at but devoid of sentiment and meaning.
It’s the memories in each decoration that makes it special. This year, while I’m surrounded by the destruction of Sandy and mourning the death of my father, I’ve been holding tight to memories.
And much to my surprise, I’ve missed my ornaments.
Even the ugly ones.
The year I got married, my mom gave me this hideous fluffy pink thing that said “First Christmas” in magenta script. (We always hid that one in the back).
She redeemed herself the next year when she gave me a wooden sail boat with a white-haired captain that we all agreed looked a little like my dad.
I had some pretty ones too. And handmade ones. For a while my sister went through what we liked to call her “felt period.” Every year we got a new felt masterpiece.
My favorites were the ornaments with stories that continued from one year to the next. When I was seven I found a wooden elf with an orange hat in my brother’s stocking. (Please don’t judge. He used to go through my stocking too). For years we negotiated and traded that elf back and forth, and we argued about who got to put it on the tree. For even more years, we fake-argued.
I told myself this shouldn’t matter. Compared to what so many others lost, this shouldn't be a big deal.
Still, I missed my ornaments. I miss my neighbors. I miss the way the streets looked before Sandy. I miss my dad.
All that missing made me weary.
I decided to skip Christmas. Expect for the Christmas Eve trip to the in-laws, I could have pulled it off too.
Until I got a package in the mail from my writing friend, Tracy Holczer. (We met on the Blueboards. We have the same terrific agent and we started talking over the phone in the beginning of this year. We talk about writing and we talk about life too. By the way, Tracy’s debut middle grade book is due out in 2014)
It was a huge box and I didn't understand it when I first opened it up. The box was filled with ornaments –some were in gift bags—others were carefully wrapped in tissue paper.
This had to be a mistake. In the rush of those pre-Christmas preparations maybe Tracy had sent me a box that was meant for her tree. She was probably going crazy looking for it. I was going to send her an email to let her know.
Then I saw a note on one of the bags that said “Merry Christmas Nan”
And I cried.
It took a long time for my slow-processing brain to put all of it together.
These were ornaments from different people -people I know from Facebook, people whose books I admire, people I’ve shared my writing angst and happy moments with, people whose books are on my to-read list.
There were notes. Each note told a story. Each decoration did too.
Some of the ornaments were from their own trees.
Others were new.
There were home made ones too, including some snowflakes made out of felt.
There was even one that was the exact same replica of one that I had lost.
I spent the day crying.
Then I pulled myself together and drove to the local CVS and bought a little tree and some lights.
When I went back to my house, I played Christmas carols and sang.
While I decorated, I marveled at my gift.
My writer friends turned this difficult time into to the “year of the unforgettable gift”
I wish I knew a way to say thank you to everyone who participated (I don’t want to list names because I’m worried that I’ll leave out someone). It has bought me more joy than I can say.
I have a tree again.
A tree that is filled with stories.
And it’s a gift from the best storytellers I know.
I wish you all the same type of joy that I found when I opened up this truly special gift.
(More pics below)