"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Bell, Noel and the Passage of Time


Unpacking Christmas stuff this week, I came across a large green bell with lots of curly red ribbon attached to it. Originally designed as a topper for a gift package, ours came into our home attached (sort of) to Toby. Two years ago.

A lot of our Christmas decorations carry specific memories, which are all the more vivid for being hidden eleven months of the year. This year as I jingled Toby's baby bell and played with the coiled curls of shiny red, I felt the passing of time in a new way.

Two years ago we brought a puppy into our home who turned our lives and expectations upside down and inside out. Even knowing how fast puppies become dogs, we weren't at all sure we could make it that long with our sanity intact, and without really talking about it, both considered whether we could keep him. Today he is the golden light that makes us laugh and softens our hearts, and whose smiling writhing greeting every time he sees us after an absence, no matter how short, makes us feel so loved.

A lifetime ago I was an abused, emotionally abandoned child being raised by parents who were both abused and emotionally abandoned children. I didn't know that then, and it would not have mattered. I did what was necessary to survive, and have spent the last couple of decades undoing those knots, and learning that there's more to life than survival.

Buried deep in one of the tubs and tubs of snowmen and Santas and silk poinsettias and angels and snowglobes and Santa and Mrs. ornaments, I find a small box that makes my heart quicken even before I've opened it. When I came into possession of the contents of this box just a few years ago, it was like I claimed a small happy part of the mostly sad life I fled as soon as I was big enough.

My mom loved Christmas and she became a different person during the holidays. Happier. Softer. More open. We had very little money, but she tried really hard to provide at least one gift for each of the four of us that would make us light up on Christmas morning. Usually Santa got the credit. I have a clear memory of the thrill of getting my Shirley Temple doll, her ringlets bouncing, white teeth showing through a red bow of a mouth, dimples permanently dented on either side.

Never a great cook, or very comfortable in the kitchen, my mom spent hours creating abundant traditional meals. Eggs, bacon, fresh-squeezed orange juice and Grandma's stollen for breakfast after presents had been opened. Turkey, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cauliflower with cheese sauce, pumpkin pies for a dinner that started in the early afternoon and didn't really end until bedtime much later in the day. Although I did much of the cooking for our family from the age of seven on, I wasn't allowed, or required, to help with the holiday meals.

She did the decorating herself, too. We were allowed to help put ornaments on the tree, and as I got older was given the privilege of arranging certain figurines under her supervision. Again, there wasn't much, but she loved what was there. Tinsel and candy canes, saved from year to year, were added to the tree one painstaking piece at a time. Small porcelain bells were carefully strung in a window on red ribbon. She handled them with such love and care I was sure they were priceless and irreplaceable. I have the bells now, in their original box, which has their price of 85 cents written on the back. Handmade stockings for the children only, ours from the time we were babies, were hung above the fireplace which was our only source of heat and a big source of worry for me about how Santa was going to get down without being burned.

Her favorite decoration was a set of four little angels holding red candles, spelling out "NOEL" in bright red letters. The red of the letters kept peeling off, so every year she'd color them back in with her bright red fingernail polish. I loved watching her beautiful work-worn hands applying polish to the angels.

A few years ago when we were closing down my mom's house, after she could no longer care for herself, I found boxes and boxes of Christmas stuff in the loft of her barn. Most of it was mouse-gnawed or broken or mildewed beyond redemption. Among the few things I was able to rescue was the set of Noel angels. The angels that thrill me anew every year now when I unpack them.

Their place is by my kitchen sink. They sit at the feet of a newer angel I bought a couple of years ago who represents the spirit of the little girl who not only survived her childhood, but now thrives as a part of my whole.

Love is what weaves time into the blankets that keep us warm and safe and whole. The blankets might be newer and stronger - our two years with Toby. Or much older and full of holes - a broken childhood that ended forty years ago. It's interesting that Christmas, the time of year when new life promises the end of darkness, is the time when I become most aware of the strength, resilience, and gentle persistence of love.

23 comments:

Wanda said...

Love. Definitely Love.

Tamika: said...

Love has a way of keeping us like nothing else could.

Jody Hedlund said...

Beautiful post, Deb. You wove the past and present together so well--even the picture with the new angel standing triumphant over the past is a wonderful representation of your post. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE layering blankets! And to put that into the imagery of being woven by love?! Beautiful!!

More layers for you!
M in Vancouver

Go Mama said...

Achingly beautiful, perfectly rendered tale. Look at how you have transformed from where you came and created love all around you. Many blessings indeed!

Tabitha Bird said...

Oh Deb, you had tears in my eyes. I know how that little girl you once were felt. Christmas never turned out right at our house. My parents had some of there worst fights on Christmas eve.
My mother saved none of our stuff. But the other day I came across a decoration that my grandmother made when I was very little. I still remember her making it and showing me. Happy memories are diamonds to those of us who had so few growing up. Thanks for sharing.

deb said...

I've never really like Christmas, it was always awful at our house, trapped in the house, in the middle of a prairie winter with an angry depressed father. Few good memories.

I'm glad that you have good memories and continue to make them. I'll try this year.

patricia said...

It is so great to read about the good memories you have from your childhood, having been introduced to some of the more painful memories first.

Jessica said...

I think it's so wonderful that you can see the bits of good in the bad. I'm sorry that your childhood stunk, but it's nice that you have good memories of the holidays. :-) I hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

FrecklesandDeb said...

I'm so glad you found a happy memory for Christmas. Simple objects can often bring the the emotions to the surface. Love that you've kept the red chipped.

Janna Qualman said...

The first thing I noticed (and loved) about that photo was the angels with their chipping NOEL letters. The paint fades away as the years, getting down to the heart of love and memory. The pain seems rounder, softer that way.

It's a beautiful time of year, and I'm so glad you're able to enjoy it. *hugs*

Jerri said...

I adore the combination of past and present angels.

That's one of the sources of your great strength and beauty, I think. That folding together of the many parts of yourself that make the whole, layered with understanding and love for all.

Brilliant, Deb.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

All choked up here over all the H.B.

love.

Pam said...

I love coming here Deb. I love your stories.

K.M. Weiland said...

What a beautiful story! And I can speak personally of the joy of a good dog. Crazy Bob - a black Lab - literally wandered into my life a few years ago and has been such a blessing ever since!

jan said...

I love the gentleness with which you retrieve the positive memories of your mother. There seem to be so many bad ones, it really touches me how you can find her soft spots and the ways she tried to care for you.

"Healed behavior" indeed.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"Love is what weaves time into the blankets that keep us warm and safe and whole"

Aw, Deb. A truly lovely post. I'm glad you found the Noel angels. Also, I suppose that is why we only bring all the "stuff" out every eleven months. To rediscover the memories.

Lorna said...

I'm with Julie on that one; loved the feeling that last paragraph evoked. And somehow really happy you were able to rescue the Noel angels from being forgotten. Leaving with a smile...

kimmirich.wordpress.com said...

Deb, again a touching--moving sory. Merry Christmas. x0

Rick said...

What a wonderfully warm, endearing post.

M said...

I'm still brushing back the tears. The healing that is taking place as beautiful as the story.

Love
Mark

kario said...

Here's hoping that this Christmas season will be another one full of love and newfound memories for you and Walt and Toby. The mindfulness with which you enter the season bodes well ;-)

Love.

Juli M said...

Merry Christmas!
I too found my treasured little NOEL angels (exactly like yours!) when I unpacked boxes that had been in storage for nearly 40 years! Made my heart sing to see my little angels once again - I had thought they were long gone.
They have a "special" shelf near my tree every year now.