A Family History on Tree Branches

Christmas decorations come and go. Even on a tree the size Mom and Bill have at the lake, there simply isn’t room for all the ornaments Mom had collected over the years. The same can be said about Dad and Janice’s tree, though theirs is typically smaller. It’s only just ‘large’. Our trees are not the carefully colour-coordinated themed trees, where ornaments of primarily two colours match the garland. Instead, they are a loving jumble of cherished moments, a history of sorts. Both trees have childhood ornaments from my parents and step parents, both have ornaments my sister and I made, both have traces of divorce in them if you know where to look, and both trees have rich and amazing love hanging on their branches.

Each year, selections are made. Some ornaments just don’t make the cut and are returned to their boxes to wait for another year. There are some that always make it onto the tree in both households: cherished gifts, ornaments with histories like the glittering spider web, and homemade gifts.

My father has an ornament that I don’t even remember making. A salt-dough item around the size of my thumb – a stocking. There is a wreath as well, but I think my sister made that one. Dad figures I was around three the year we made those. Every year they are hung with obvious love and care, in specially chosen locations on the tree.

One year Mom spread sheets on the basement floor, and gathered seemingly odd and unrelated items. Christmas wrapping paper leftover I assume from the year before, a pot of glue, big paint brushes, scissors, and old scratched up glass ball ornaments. We chatted, sang, hung out, and created. Good memories. We spent an afternoon (or two?) cutting pieces of paper and getting nearly as covered in glue as the ornaments became, creating new collage artwork ornaments in place of worn-out old ones. Several of these still remain and still find homes on both trees.

Friends of the family had decorated their tree largely with gorgeous ribbon, sequin, and bead balls of all shapes and sizes. Each was hand-made by a family member. That year or the next, Tasha and I were given kits to make similar ones, with clear instructions and ready-prepared ribbons. These are still selected to grace Mom and Bill’s tree. Tasha was inspired and created her own bead and sequin one, covered all around with shimmers and random-seeming sticks of beads. It looks like the offspring of a communication satellite and a disco ball – and earned the name Sputnik. I don’t think it’s made the cut for the last couple of years, but for years I put it up out of spiteful satisfaction that my artsy sister made something so horrid looking. Wrong, I know, but it made me feel a little less inadequate.

Then there was the year the sheets were spread out again, and we made jar upon jar of “Pickled bums” as humourous gifts out of nylons, thread, and stuffing. I don’t think any of those remain.

As an undergrad  I spent a co-op work semester in Nanaimo, and lived with a family with whom I had very little in common. Their daughter, perhaps a little older than I, taught me how to cross stitch, though. Slowly I worked on a project, carefully comparing my work to the confusing map, stitching in purples and mauves, then pinning satin ribbon. The ornament reads “MOM 1992” and hangs on the tree every year. Two other years I painstakingly stitched out, in cross-stitch and embroidery, ornate angels as Christmas gifts for Dad and Janice. These hang on their living room wall year-round, my only art ever to do so, joining my sister’s and Dad’s paintings. I haven’t forgotten that I “owe” Mom and Bill something for their wall, but they’ll have to wait a little while.

Other non-decoration gifts have included lingerie- and bathingsuit-clad gingerbread men (I will never forget the expression on my Aunt Mimi’s face when she opened that cookie tin! Priceless!) and much pottery that I made and glazed in classes the year or so before Cameron was born.

I don’t have the time, energy, inspiration or patience lately to stitch even basic stuff. Still, this year I have ambitious goals for myself and Cameron. Cameron and I braved an art and craft supply store today. I do need to say DeSerres, please, tell your employees that dumping a clearly bewildered customer with a hyper tot in two aisles of acrylic paint and with a vague wave toward the paint brush aisle is very unhelpful? Do you KNOW how many types of acrylic paints there are? And only the $18 paint brushes looked remotely suitable for young hands. I finally found suitable brushes in the kid’s department and chose an introductory acrylic paint kit.

We are now armed for our adventure into Christmas Ornament Crafts. My bank account is rather limited this year, so my plan is to make a whole lot of ornaments over the next few weeks with Cameron. These will be the primary gifts for family and friends.

My main plan is to do salt-dough trees, stars, reindeer, bells, and angels. Cameron wields a pretty mean cookie cutter with play dough so I figure with a little guidance he should be able to help. I’ve got sponge brushes for painting our creations, with finer art brushes for detail.

The ‘gravy’ will be the glass balls. Yes I know, I’m asking for trouble with those and a youngster. But if I choose the timing carefully we should be able to do one at a time – polkadot with paint, or drizzle glue on them and dust with glitter. He saw the balls and is pretty excited about them. If all goes well I will look in thrift shops for old glass balls, and perhaps we will try the wrapping paper and hodge podge technique. The plan is to start tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I think it’s safe to say that these ornaments will find homes on trees for years to come, never landing in the “maybe next year” pile. Even if they turn out to be streaked and misshapen lumps, they will be made with love. That’s just how these things work. The ornaments that nestle in the family Christmas trees aren’t necessarily chosen for their artistic merit, after all.

The other part of the plan is to give ornaments to Cameron. Perhaps not overtly, but some will be tucked away for him. My hope is that perhaps, decades from now, he will tell his young grandchild in his arms as they gaze at the Christmas tree, “My mother and I made this when I was a little boy.”

Not only is it rapidly approaching Christmas time, it is also blog-blast time over at the Parent Bloggers Network. This time it’s for Klutz books!


2 responses to “A Family History on Tree Branches

  1. What a lovely trip back in time – I’d forgotten about the Pickled Bums! Do you remember the Rudolph set, the White Reindeer, a Red Santa? from my childhood Christmases, still tucked into The Tree.
    Thank you for the smiles as I read this! Hugs,Mom

  2. Pingback: Klutz-y Blog Blast Starts Today: Post and Win! | The Parent Bloggers Network·

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