s I hang the first ornament, I’m singing along with Eartha Kitt. I know I look like a fool in my Santa hat, belting out “Santa Baby,” but it’s the Sunday before Christmas, tree-dressing day.
I’ve chosen the towering Bavarian stick-skier in a red quilted jacket that my dad loved. “Not right in front, it’s dorky,” Rachel protests. She is grown, a working nurse, but revisiting the “OMG,
Dad!” role of youth.
AWhen I was a kid, my mother had the Christmas-tree bug, and I’ve taken the same silly joy in the ritual. I remember her holiday jazz albums (Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz) dropping from the stack onto the turntable as my two older brothers and I danced, quibbled, and dressed the tree.
So I string the lights and build the fire, then let each ornament trigger smack talk and memories. The ugly glass owl? A memorial to Neil’s obsessive hunting for owl pellets when he was a kid. “I was a freaking Steve Irwin,” he deadpans. The handmade sleeping kitty with a crack across it? My sweet mother-in-law, Ruth, glazed that in honor of our first cat. Only the ornament remains, glued and proud.
Each object fills me with emotions I can’t otherwise always tap. Our dear friends the Nashes sent the jaunty mini cowboy boot after they’d moved away from us to Texas. The tiny San Francisco Giants baseball in glass brings back the incredible day in 2010 when we all finally celebrated, for real. Bent, awkward, or old ornaments join the pretty bulbs up front. We sing along with Luther Vandross—“have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”—and I feel all the people and places
life has lucked me with. DEAR READER