Reflections in ornaments

Marjorie Otto/Review Most of Marjorie Otto’s holiday ornaments hold special memories or meanings, like the tiny red mailbox her grandma gave her years ago with a note she left inside it. Though her grandmother passed away years ago, Otto still takes the note out every year to read it.

I often think of my boxes of Christmas ornaments as some kind of time travel devices. 

Every year when I open a box I think of where I was at this time last year when I last saw them, how I’ve grown and what new memories I have. Each ornament itself holds many memories from the past. 

Some of my ornaments are inherited, antiques, ones that Grandma would have put out when I was little, when we’d have Christmas in my grandparents’ little house in Roseville. Some are striped baubles, others are the shape of garden vegetables, many are Santas, courtesy of Grandma’s Santa collection. 

As one of the youngest cousins, I’d yet to amass any decorations of my own when my grandparents passed away. They left behind a start to my own holiday traditions — even a Christmas tree.

Each year the older ornaments bring back childhood memories, the dazzle of holiday lights in my grandparents’ Roseville neighborhood, the year I got my American Girl doll, the excitement of Christmas as a kid. 

Some ornaments bring me back to Christmas up at the farm with my other grandparents, driving on dark Wisconsin roads watching carefully for deer, passing backlit tractors with lights that flashed to make it look like the tires were turning, a favorite of my brother’s.

There’s the distinct feel of the warmth of the farmhouse with all of us in it — cousins, aunts, uncles — our boots, snow pants and coats piling in the entryway. Grandma hugged everyone in the kitchen before they could unload groceries and gifts because she just couldn’t wait that long. It’s still like that to this day. 

Other ornaments are new ones, gifts from friends as we celebrate the holidays as new adults. There’s a glass teapot given by one friend and a small trinket that reads “Baby’s First Christmas,” given in jest by another friend to celebrate my cat Kit Kat’s first holiday.

There are also some ornaments that have migrated from my parents’ tree to my own, which I hang while listening to Mannheim Steamroller or Gene Autry, just like I would have at home. There are some sparkly horses I picked out after visiting Santa with my cousins and uncle, the elastic string they came on long-stretched-out from years of hanging. 

There’s also a little red mailbox with a note inside. On bright green paper it reads, “Someday this will be on your own tree. Christmas ‘95. Love, Grandma.”

I’d put it on my parents’ tree for years, thinking the day when I’d have my own tree seemed so far away. Yet here I am; I’ve been putting it on my own tree for the past five years. And every year I take the note out and read it, wishing Grandma could see it.

My tree’s not very large so I’ve got to be choosy when I decorate it. “I’ll put some different ornaments out next year,” I tell myself, but I never do. 

It’s always the same ones, because I only get to see them and experience their memories once a year. Maybe I need a bigger tree, or maybe the ornaments serve their purpose for this point in my life and the other, unchosen ornaments will serve a purpose at a later stage in life. I could also be overthinking it.

Usually on New Year’s Day, I slowly pack everything back up, sad the Yuletide season has ended and in disbelief at the turn of another new year. But as I put everything away and close up the last few boxes, I once again find myself reflecting on what has happened in the past year and what will happen in between the next time I dig out the boxes. 

What new people, what new places, what new things will I learn between then and now? How will life have changed, how will I have grown, when I see these trinkets once again?


—Marjorie Otto

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