Christmas in May

Posted: May 22nd, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Hoarding, Mom | No Comments »

I ventured down to the basement today in search of my bag o’ bathing suits. Our basement is pretty big for a California basement–or at least everyone who sees it seems all surprised by it. And of course, when there is space to fill with crap, one tends to find crap to fill it with. Mark and I excel in pack-rattery anyway. So there are about 25 boxes of books we have no room for upstairs, bulky kitchen appliances we don’t often use, furniture from my mother’s house, boxes of out-of-season clothes that we never unpacked when we moved but are maybe now in season again (hard to tell), and a new layer of baby-related gear and clothing.

So, I was spelunking through it all. Within 4 seconds I’d forgotten why I was down there and just started checking stuff out, and trying to cull through and organize it a bit.

I’ve always liked to store things properly, but with my mother gone, I feel especially protective of the things that were hers. A) It’s old and/or valuable, or just something I really like, and B) it was hers and even if it was an old sock I’m sentimental about it. (I truly have held onto pairs of socks that were hers. Wait for me to show up on Oprah with some psychiatrist who is guiding me through throwing out theadbare tennis peds while I’m cry convulsively.)

After focusing on the clothing situation (piles to bring upstairs, piles to donate, oops–this goes in the maternity box), I A.D.D.ed my way over to the holiday section. With all my Christmas stuff plus my obsession with Halloween costumes, it’s practically a holiday “department.” I realized that some Christmas boxes could clearly be condensed. One just had bubble wrap in it that had once protected ornaments, and two long cotton tubular sacks with pink closure ribbons at the ends. I had no idea what the hell they were for and was going to (uncharacteristically) throw them away, when I noticed a paper note pinned to one that had “12 days of Christmas” written on it.

Oh my God. How cool. They were the custom-made storage bags for the Christmas wall-hanging and Christmas tree skirt Mark’s great grandmother, Grandma Kohl, had made. For some reason, standing there in the basement, I wanted to almost cry. Thank God I didn’t throw them out.

Mark’s great grandmother is long gone. I’m pretty sure she’s Mark’s mom’s mom’s mom. And as far as we can tell she’s the red-head who is genetically responsible for Kate’s strawberry blonde locks. The women on Mark’s mom’s side of the family LIVE FOREVER. I mean, these women have amazing staying power–into their 90s most of them. And I think they have tended to be pretty on top of their games into their dotage.

So, somewhere in her 90s, Grandma Kohl, crafty woman that she was, made Mark and his sister Lori (and likely all her other great-grandchilden) these amazing Christmas tree skirts, and wall-hangings that depict each of the 12 days of Christmas. They are tacky and flashy felt-and-sequin things that are truly exquisite. I have loved them dearly since Mark’s mom sent them to us this fall. (In his bachelorhood Mark never had need–and likely desire–for them.)

Both pieces have incredible detail–depicting everything from lords a’ leapin’, to Santa and a chimney, to partridges in trees with little porcelain pears hanging from them. They were assembled not only with flamboyant artistry, but with incredible care and attention to detail. The Christmas tree skirt even had a line marked with loosely-sewn white thread indicating where to cut so the circle could be wrapped around the tree. They stir up something in my inner Martha-Stewart soul. I guess it’s respect for such quality work, together with a love of family, traditions, Christmas. You don’t spend so much time on these things unless you love Christmas, and the people that you are making them for. And to think that the woman was in her 90s!

When Peggy sent them to us, it was oddly like getting a gift from the grave for Grandma Kohl. Here we were, still newlyweds and with a young baby, setting up house. It was clearly time for us to have and love these pieces. They are now part of our family’s Christmas tradition. Something Kate’s red-headed great great great grandmother made for us without even knowing Kate or I would be there to enjoy them.

I managed to easily find the tree skirt and the wall-hanging and to carefully move them from the box and garbage bag they were in to the cotton storage bags. Thank you, thank you, Grandma Kohl. I promise to always use the proper storage bags to keep your hard work safe, and when she is old enough, I will tell Kate about how special these decorations are that you made for us long ago. I’m also saving your hand-written tag–it’s something that seems to connect you to these things, and to us, even closer.

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