The simplest thing can bring on the flood.
A song. A scent. The shiny red-green-gold beads in a strand of garland.
It’s Christmastime, and for me, sentiment comes easy.
Putting up the tree triggers the memories, doesn’t it? Last weekend we brought this year’s balsam fir in through the front door and danced her to the corner of the living room where a you’ll-only-need-one-for-your-lifetime tree stand from LL Bean—twenty pounds of cast iron—awaited. Six feet tall and beautifully proportioned, we positioned her with a relative minimum of fussing about whether she was leaning this way or that, offered her a drink and began the long, memory-filled process of unwrapping the ornaments.
The Eiffel Tower reminding us of a trip to Paris.
The shamrock from Ireland.
The sea glass garlands discovered in a shop in Deer Isle.
The cowgirl hat and western bird ornaments bought in Arizona.
The Quebec flag shaped like a heart.
The Red Sox 2004 World Series commemorative championship ornament. (Okay, okay, and the 2007 and 2013 ones, too, and perhaps Santa will bring me this year’s in my stocking.)
But the ornaments that really bring on the torrent of memories are the old-school ones.
The fragile tin balls shaped like planets and moons. The shiny reindeer with antlers, ready to pull that sleigh full of gifts.
Santa himself, reins in hand, about to embark on his magical trip around the world.
Speaking of Santa, a ramble through an old scrapbook suggests I was a bit intimidated the first time I met him face to face.
From this photo I’m guessing I’d just turned three. My blond sister appears to be reciting her list while I look like I’m getting ready to run for my life.
A few years later—the date on the letter tells me I was six years and six days old—I’d gotten over my fear of St. Nick. Despite my confusion about the interchangeability of the letters “d” and “t,” Santa did bring me a drum that year. Shockingly, on or about December 26 it disappeared, a Buchanan family mystery still unresolved.
I don’t know if I got the unnamed doll or her more popular cousin Nancy Nurse, but it’s possible. The ball and the col(l)oring book are probable. Thanks to the miracle of the internet I learned in the course of writing this post that Gobs o’ Fun was sort of a slime thing. As for a GoGoGo, I have no clue.
The scrapbook also holds a collection of the obligatory photo Christmas cards. My much-older brother opted out eventually, leaving the smiling to me and my sisters.
The choirboy and choirgirl candles often played a starring role, as did the manger, which you can see in the background in this shot.
The manger was of my mother’s treasured possessions, and I was afraid to touch the delicate baby Jesus made of wax, but had a great time introducing the wooden cows and the oxen to my pals Gumby and Pokey.
On Christmas morning the manger played a central role. Rumor had it some kids were allowed to rush for the tree as soon as they woke up, but we Buchanan girls were expected to comb our hair, brush our teeth and wait for our teenaged brother to drag himself out of bed. After a seemingly interminable wait, my father went downstairs and plugged in the tree. When we finally descended, my sisters and I were marched across the living room where we knelt in front of that manger and said our morning prayers. My parents and big brother knelt behind us, poised to redirect a wandering gaze away from the unwrapped gifts and back to the nativity scene.
It was excruciating.
Later in the morning there were mutton pies (a subject for my St. Patrick’s Day post perhaps), and all day long the house was filled with aunts and uncles and cousins. Once we kids were good and sugared up from eating all the ribbon candy from the fancy glass dishes in the living room, the small hill in our backyard became the tryout run for new sleds and flying saucers.
Memories of those carefree days were constant this week, brought on by Bing Crosby singing Silver Bells, the scent of balsam perfuming the house and that gorgeous, shiny beaded garland, handed down from Diane’s grandmother.
I wish you happiness this season, whatever holidays you may celebrate, and a joyous, peaceful, wonderful new year.
To the readers of this blog: What are your favorite holiday memories? Please let us know in the comments.
Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. Three books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available everywhere e-books are sold. She is writing a new series that has as its protagonist a Portland criminal defense lawyer willing to take on cases others won’t touch in a town to which she swore she would never return.