Decorating the tree every Christmas provides an opportunity to refresh my mind of the time that has passed, an annual exercise in recall made more difficult by the year that just preceded it. Various ornaments create "Hey, remember when..." moments that bring back times that don't seem as aged as they are.
"Our First Christmas" back in 1980 alludes to the spartan beginnings Kathy and I had as a young married couple, too happy to care just how spartan our beginnings were. The remaining few homemade stained glass-like ornaments we made together for our second--or was it our third?--Christmas are watched over carefully for fear they may disappear like their brethren, most likely still hidden in the branches of discarded trees.
Three "Baby's First Christmas" with the respective birth years call attention to the books and educational toys that were going to help us make our children so smart only later to learn they were always at their best when their imaginations were loosed. Ornaments unique to the places we have lived and visited point out the travels we have made and the cultures we have enjoyed. And topping them off we have the various ways to frame the elementary-aged gap-toothed forced smiles, the obligatory annual school picture documenting the slow growth that now seems to have occurred so quickly.
Among the decorations is a stocking I had has a child. It's zig-zag stitching around the green felt still holding strong while my red-markered name on the white cuff, in an uncomfortable foreshadowing of the inevitable, fades a little more each year. The stocking is a reminder of Christmases past when I and two brothers--the three oldest--would stealthily slip out of our bedroom and impatiently wait for our siblings and parents to wake as we almost silently examined the presents surrounding our humble tree. Real football uniforms complete with pads, pants, jerseys and helmets so that my brothers and I, still younger than ten, could mimic the pros we watched play in between Falstaff beer commercials and halftime marching bands. Once it was a bicycle that expanded my horizons and showed me a huge world existed beyond my neighborhood. Another time, a chemistry set with which I could stray from the instructions to create the most unpleasant odors and even endanger the house and family.
Second grade for each of my children seems so long ago and in comparison my elementary school years are ancient history. Years from now, what memories will be awakened in my children and what stories will they tell about the tin can they sloppily painted before gluing the poem off center, the hand prints they pressed on the construction paper, or the button-encrusted popsicle stick frame displaying a photo from a long past age of innocence?