As I pulled out Christmas lights, ornaments and other decorations last weekend, I realized we have 16 good-sized plastic tubs and three big bags stuffed with decorations.
I suppose that isn’t such a huge amount, not if you want to decorate the state Capitol building. It does seem a bit much for any normal home, though. Besides, we got rid of a bunch of this stuff when we moved from our big house in Pierre four years ago. How in the world did we keep so much stuff?
Listen, I like Christmas as much as anyone else. My mom made Christmas a huge event, hitting up the mail-order catalog places weeks in advance of the holiday and baking cookies shaped like stars and angels and trees. I can almost taste the icing she whipped up to decorate the cookies. And for sure I can still picture those old-fashioned Christmas tree lights, those glass things shaped like candles and filled with some kind of liquid that bubbled when the lights were plugged in and the liquid heated up. They were a major-league fire hazard, I’m sure, but they sure were pretty.
(I called them old-fashioned, but I suppose they were the hottest thing (pun intended) back when I was a kid. It’s like Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future’’ calling the Chuck Berry song “Johnny B. Goode’’ an oldie but goodie, and then correcting himself to say, “Well, it’s an oldie where I come from.’’)
My mom loved to buy Christmas gifts. She was perfectly happy with a piece of plywood cut in the shape of a key and stuck full of hooks for a key holder as a gift from me, but she wanted to make sure I got the gun-and-holster set I saw in the Sears Roebuck catalog or the Lone Ranger mask and hat. Christmas to her was giving things to other people and watching them smile as they opened each gift.
She kept that gift-buying thing going right up until she moved to an assisted-living place a few years before she died. The thing was, sometimes she bought gifts so early in the season that she forgot she had them. When that happened, she’d go out and buy some more things for the kids and grandkids. On more than one Christmas Eve, as we were opening gifts, she suddenly jumped from her chair and rushed to the built-in closet in her bedroom. There she rummaged around among the dozens and dozens of shoes until, with an exclamation of success, she emerged with one or two more gifts she just remembered buying the previous summer.
After she moved to assisted living and we went about the terribly sad job of cleaning out her house in preparation for sale, we had a few moments of laughter when we came across several gifts still stashed in that closet. I think the grandkids must have thought the place was magic. During their visits she pulled the most amazing things from its depths. It wouldn’t have surprised me if one of the grandkids had told me they dug way to the back of the closet and stumbled on a portal into Narnia or some other enchanted world.
It seems to me that Nancy and I took home one or two ornaments from my mom’s vast supply after she died. We added them to the Christmas decorations she had given us during her life. For a time, she got into ceramics, kiln-firing figures and painting them. We have a small, lighted ceramic tree, a couple of angels, a Santa with a big bag stuffed with candy canes, and three or four elves. So do my siblings or their families. They aren’t expensive things, but to us they are priceless.
We moved again last August. We’re decorating our new home for Christmas for the first time. It looks like we have many more decorations than we have places to display them. Nancy has a knack for this sort of thing, though. She will make the place look festive and welcoming, alive and filled with Christmas spirit.
Many years ago in our big house in Pierre, Nancy’s dad crafted a brick fireplace. That’s where we used to set my mom’s Santa and elves. We did the same in our townhome.
This new place didn’t have a mantel over the fireplace when we moved in. It does now. It wouldn’t have been a real home without a place for my mom’s Christmas things.