Kris and I went ornament shopping together. Wal-Mart and Hallmark, we bought a few dozen glass balls, mostly blue and red; a string of colored lights; a box of snowman ornaments to write each member of the family’s name, not knowing what we’d do if we have more than seven kids; and one special ornament for the year. Something with 2011. She held up ornament after ornament and I shrugged at some and scowled at others. Finally, she asked, “Babe, do you have some guidelines as to what kind of ornament you want this year?”
I mulled for a while and then said, “Babe, it just can’t be Styrofoam.”
Mom always had an expansive definition of what constituted an ornament. Growing up, we had one Hallmark quality ornament, a giant mushroom with a mouse family inside celebrating Christmas. The baby mouse fell out years ago. We had a smattering of four kinds of Christmas tree glass balls: red, blue, green, and broken. We had our homemade Christmas ornaments: red, green, and white beads strung together at Babysitter Helen’s house in the shapes of candy canes and wreaths.
And then we had mom’s ornaments and mom loved Styrofoam. In 1983, mom rushed in the house to show us, “the coolest ornaments ever made!” A street salesman thought we had been too long without the 70s and glued a bunch of tiny mirrors on a Styrofoam ball. Mom bought a baker’s dozen because, “twelve of these just aren’t enough.” She put the tree in the sunlight and the miniature disco balls on the tree so that from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., sunlight reflected directly in your eyes if you sat anywhere in the living room. A special feature of the balls was that the little mirrors tended to fall off, exposing more Styrofoam, and, thus, even more joy.
I successfully hid or otherwise destroyed one or two disco balls a year until Christmas ’87 when mom thought the tree was looking a little bare. She burst through the door to show us, “the coolest ornaments ever made!” A creative mind decided there was pent up demand for Styrofoam balls with wispy white hair coming off of them. Mom bought two dozen, all white. She showed us each one in turn as she pulled them out of the bag and put them on the tree. The balls shed on the floor between the bag and the tree.
I stood back and looked at the tree. It consisted of two strings of lights, 14 real ornaments (13 glass balls and the mice ornament) six kid-made ornaments, and 32 Styrofoam balls. When I pointed out the Styrofoam dominance, mom pointed out that some had fur and some had mirrors.
And I started taking away one fur ball and one mirrored ball a year.
And Kris and I decorated our tree while Zach sat there, cooing at the ornament packaging. Because she’s the mom, Kris put the lights up, two strings (dads have to make sure the tree is centered in the tree stand and keep it watered). Then we put up our gorgeous, real ornaments: frosted blue and green glass spheres; snowmen named Jimmy, Kristi, Zechariah, and six nameless ones; and a 2011 dated sled.
And we turned off the lights and plugged it in. We stood around the bright, wind skewed tree, and sang a couple of songs.
And then I put two Styrofoam balls up. The same, but different.