Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Things We Keep

They aren't much to look at – small pieces of Styrofoam, shaped like an apple and painted glossy red.

Compared to the ornaments around them – many handmade, some vintage – they seem too common, like they don’t warrant a place on our family Christmas tree.

But there they lie, just beneath the angel topper, in a place of honor as they are every December.

My children are old enough now to ask the history behind unfamiliar ornaments as they decorate the evergreen in our living room.

This year the apples caught their attention.

"Why do we have these apples?" Jack asked. "They’re kind of cheesy."

Before answering, I thought about the origin of the apples and several others like them. They were part of an inexpensive set purchased at the now-closed Ames Department Store in Presque Isle, Maine.

They were the featured decorations on a skinny plastic artificial tree bought at the same store and assembled in a small, upstairs apartment overlooking Presque Isle’s Main Street.

It was December 1993 and Missy and I were newly married, working in jobs that paid enough for the apartment and our basic needs but little else. The little tree, the apples and a few other decorations were all we could afford that year aside from a few small presents for each other and our families.

I remember our excitement in making our little home festive. My parents drove the five hours north to spend the weekend with us, making garland of popcorn and cranberries to string on the tree as we listened to seasonal music.

It was a Christmas of promise, one marking the start of our married life together and everything it would bring.

Fast forward twenty years. The apple Jack holds in his hand is one of two that remain. A few were lost, crushed or nibbled by field mice that snuck into the attic. At least one was consumed by our beagle Reese.

The two that survived the passage of time and a few relocations, however, are treasured items – along with the spindly, misshapen tree that remains in the attic.

Without knowing the back story, the cheap little apples would appear to the untrained eye to have little value – as would the tree or the inexpensive nativity that my parents bought at Woolworth's when they were newly married. Like the apples, it too has an honored place among our Christmas possessions.

These are the things we keep – the items steeped in memory and forever linked to those who helped create these memories. Parting with them would amount to discarding physical evidence of a history that should be cherished.

And so, after the Christmas season ends, we carefully put away the apples and many other keepsakes accumulated over twenty years of married life – waiting for another Christmas season and the chance to unpack decades of remembrances.

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