Memories Cast in Silver

We have the Christmas tree up at my house and this year we did tinsel. Tinsel has been a controversy in my immediate  family, but this year my kids insisted on tinsel and we gave in.

We also decided to use all of a certain class of our many Christmas ornaments: Silver hand-made ornaments that my wife has received, each year, since she was a child. Each one connotes a memory from that year.

The three you see in the photo represent, in one case, the violin classes Karen took when she was 13. The airplane ornament recalls a WWII-era bomber plane that was restored by her uncle Tom. The family of four ornament arrived the Christmas after our daughter Sophie (who made us  four) was born.

Memories can be fuzzy, even when they are marked by an ornament. One shows a handsaw with several bends in it. Did we get that after we upgraded the attic in our old house in Minneapolis? Did Karen attend a concert that featured a musical saw? Not sure.

Some years were uneventful and Karen’s stepmom Rae, who commissions the silver ornaments, has had to get creative to think of a seminal event. One year Karen got an ornament in the shape of a tent because she and I went camping for a couple of days in the late 1980s.

In fact, that one has become significant because it embodies a family joke. Karen hates camping and has done it only once more in the past 20-plus years, and she only did that because our friends got a campsite on a coastal bluff in San Diego with urban amenities just across the highway. 

Some ornamental occasions were pretty simple. The year we got a dog, we got a dog ornament. When Karen graduated Phi Beta Kappa she got a silver Phi Beta Kappa key. She got a kitchen whisk the year she imagined becoming a professional chef (she never followed though on that one).

We’d  buy a house one year, and on Christmas Day we’d open a package with a silver ornament that looked just like the house.

The artist who makes them is a friend of Rae who will retire someday, so it’s hard to know how long the tradition will continue. But for decades it has commemorated events both big and small, serious and fleeting.

These are memories that would either fade or blend together. But the small pieces of metal that emerge from a box on the holidays remind you how important one thing was, a little while ago.

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