Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 18, 2009

Heart-felt holiday ornaments

The tree was stunningly decorated in purple and gold, and white lights twinkled among its branches. Our host had spent hours selecting ornaments in the perfect shades of purple and placing them just so on his Christmas tree. Those of us who were guests at his holiday party told Steve his tree was elegant enough it could be featured on a magazine cover or in a store display.

The trees I grew up with and the ones we've had with our girls have been more "Reminisce" magazine than "House Beautiful." The decorations are a hodge-podge of Hallmark, homemade and hand-me-downs. But I like it that way because they tell a story of our lives.

Santas from Ecuador and Sweden, miniature hand-painted pewter nutcrackers from Germany and tiny baskets from Bolivia adorn our tree alongside Hallmark "Harry Potter," "Noah's Ark" and "101 Dalmatians" ornaments, homemade bread dough figures, 1950s and '60s Shiny Brite balls, reindeer made out of tongue depressors and pipe cleaners, and many others. Sprinkled in between are a few small frames that hold photos of the girls when they were little.

The subject of ornaments came up a couple of years ago when I was with my gal pals at our annual holiday get-together. We wondered aloud what we should do with our collections.

Jackie said, "Well, you don't HAVE to keep all your ornaments, you know." She is a no-nonsense, get-rid-of-clutter type person.

But she did say she still has some yellow yarn that she puts on her tree. Her 2-year-old son gave it to her to add to the branches. That son is now a college senior.

"It looks like spaghetti," she said.

"And he probably gave it to you when he pronounced it 'pascetti,'" Linda said.

Linda, a Mizzou graduate, has some ornaments made of bread dough. "One is a University of Missouri Tiger, but the flag he was holding fell off - and his paw fell off, too, But he still goes on my tree."

That's like the bread-dough ornaments my late husband Jerome and I made for our 1981 Christmas together. Some of them disintegrated, but the bear, nutcracker and drum are still intact and I find a place for them each year.

Friend Judy in Texas includes her father's bronzed baby shoes, key chains from trips she's taken, a polled Hereford cow because her husband raises that cattle breed and an anchor cross her Navy son made.

In 1990, she traveled to Germany with her daughter, which led to her making a unique ornament.

"The Berlin Wall was in the process of being torn down," she wrote. "But we, wanting to bring a piece of it home, went with hammer and chisel prepared to make it happen. A couple of soldiers from Fort Benning happened to be walking by about the time we were trying to chisel off some of the wall. They offered to assist, and being taller and stronger than we were, accomplished the mission in record time, and we went on our way with assorted chips of the Berlin Wall, complete with bits of colored paints from the graffiti that had been painted on it. Later in the trip we met a young man from what had been East Germany. We enjoyed visiting with him about his country and he gave us a few East German marks, which no longer had any value. We came home with our treasures."

Once she got home, she tried to figure out how to make an ornament out of her Berlin Wall pieces. She finally struck on the idea of making a little rock pile from the chips, putting a miniature 1990 Hallmark ornament in the center and placing an East German Deutschmark on one side and a West German Deutschmark on the other.

She proudly presented it to her husband for his praise on her creativity.

"You're putting rocks on the Christmas tree now?" he asked.

It wasn't exactly the response she wanted, but Judy is still proud of her ornament. "I had been there when history was changing the country, and I have my rocks to mark the memory."

And so it is with us. Steve's Christmas tree is beautiful and would probably win a prize in a home-decorating contest. Ours is beautiful in another way and wins our hearts each time we add our memories to it.

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