Wright Light: A bit of family history hanging on the tree
BY JASON ASHLEY WRIGHT World Scene Writer
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
11/27/12 at 5:34 AM
Go to Jason Ashley Wright's BlogOriginal Print Headline: A little bit of history on the tree
As a kid, you can get away with giving some pretty lame presents - "lame," in this instance, meaning "hand-made."
You know the kind: plaster-of-Paris ornaments, others made of reindeer-brown clothespins and antler-shaped pipe cleaners, some in a shape somewhere between melted candy cane and reptilian road kill.
Between the time I stopped believing in Santa and somewhere in my 20s, I looked back on these misshaped baubles and grade-school tchotchkes with an eye roll. "Surely," I'd tell myself, "Mom is only putting this orange Christmas bell with a black stripe on the tree because I'm standing here."
But as this past weekend afforded me the chance to help Mom decorate the tree for the first time in more than a decade, I see how Mom's tree is less holiday garnish and more genealogical decoration - a true family tree representing five generations and nearly 100 years of history, with a story behind almost every single trimming.
My new favorite among the batch, and the oldest on the tree, is a single baby bootie that my maternal great-grandmother Mama Miles tatted for Mamaw Walters, who was born 96 years ago this year. A few branches over from that is a brass baby-girl-shaped ornament with Mom's name on it: "Eloise." Apparently, people have been misspelling Mom's name, Elouise, as far back as the late '40s.
Many of the ornaments represent a period from the time my brother, Jay, was born up to the mid-'80s, when I stopped making stuff in school. Among the oldest is a bendable, red and green, felt-clad Christmas elf that was on a poinsettia given to my mother after my brother was born.
Jay's brown football and my green and yellow truck were ceramic ornaments made in 1978 by our neighbor when we lived in Hawaii - not the actual state but the name of the campus apartment building in which we resided while Dad was going to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The neighbor also made a beautiful ceramic Christmas tree for Mom.
I'm surprised the thin bells, stars and trees Mamaw Wright helped me make out of plaster poured into old Christmas cookie tins my fifth-grade year have made it this far. Sadly, my glitter-antlered clothespin reindeer with googley eyes from second grade was found decapitated.
A few dozen ornaments on the tree were made by Mamaw Walters, including crocheted candy canes, Santa faces, and green and red ice skates with paperclip blades. She also made white yarn frames with each of the grandkids' photos inside, including my kindergarten photo from Safety-Land Day Nursery in Tampa, Fla.
Mamaw Walters also knitted a little white basket with a dark green pickle inside. I always thought that was strange, but apparently it's part of an old tradition - for kids to hunt for the pickle hidden in the tree's limbs, with the one who finds it given a prize.
When I told my nephew, T, that story the night he helped decorate the tree while watching the Bama-Auburn game, his eyes got big, and he immediately began searching for one of the pickles - the other being a new glass one Mom bought on a recent trip with Dad to the Smokey Mountains to see the fall foliage. That's when they also bought another Christopher Radko ornament and other beautiful, dainty things that glam-up the tree.
But none of those newbies hold a candle to the storied ornaments, about which T will one day tell a sixth generation when they hang their own ornaments on the tree - and, perhaps, hunt for a pickle made of yarn by their great-great-grandmother.