The Family Tree: The Dancing Lady and Two Reindeer

Thanksgiving weekend, I finished decorating my Christmas tree. It’s a combination of Hallmark collectibles, handmade ornaments, and pieces of my heritage…ornaments that have hung on other trees in other houses for generations. And every one has a story.

The story begins with my odd little quirk that I don’t mind stringing lights. After attempting to celebrate with pre-lit trees – only to lose a quarter to half the lights after two seasons – I went back to a conventional faux tree, with whatever lights I felt like adding at that time. This year: green and blue, wrapped in a twinkly double-helix top to bottom, then bottom to top.

I’m sure unthreading it will be a nightmare, but I’ll worry about that in January.

Stringing the lights on the Christmas tree brings fond memories. It was family tradition to put up the tree on the same Sunday when the Cleveland Browns played the Cincinnati Bengals…around December 3rd. Dad had a “technique” for stringing lights that involved a tight star pattern on each row of branches. Painstaking in its precision – which occurred only during time-outs, commercial breaks, and halftime – it took a few hours to get the tree lit.

I didn’t have the distraction of football or the assistance of children and it STILL took a couple hours (and 600 lights).

This is my first Christmas with no cat. Our little furry curmudgeon crossed the Rainbow Bridge in late summer. He is missed, especially by my 11-year-old, who grew up with him. However, this Christmas, the breakable ornaments can be hung on the lower branches.

My first ornament. I've had it for more than 40  years.

My first ornament. I’ve had it for more than 40 years.

One ornament in particular had not seen the light of day for at least 20 years, maybe longer. Probably “pre-cats”, so that would mean “before 1981”. She was given to my mom as a gift for me when I was very little. I remember the boxes – one with the Dancing Lady, another with a funny silver clown for my brother – sitting outside the door of the apartment house where we lived. The ornaments were gifts from our landlady and her family, including her quiet husband who mowed the lawn and did the repairs as well as working for Alcoa during the day, and her elderly mother, who didn’t speak a work of English.

I remember the ornament. I remember the surprise of seeing the boxes by the door. I remember the dark wood of the door, and our real Christmas tree with the big honkin’ C9 ceramic light bulbs. There’s a cascade of memories of a neighborhood that has changed dramatically since my childhood.

Over the years, my brother and I have been gifted with coordinating or matching ornaments. One of the pairs hangs on my tree.

White ReindeerRed Reindeer








I don’t recall where these little guys came from, but I can’t remember them NOT being on a tree in our house. The red one is my brother’s, the white one mine. I can’t picture separating them. They say “family”. I think about my brother and how much we’ve been through in 40+ years.

At a memoir workshop a couple years ago, I remember the instructor saying, “Because you have remembered, it deserves to be told.” Do you have a Family Tree, or family traditions? What stories do you have inside you that deserve to be told?


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