The Vintage Tree

by Robin Turnipseed

It is mid-October and I am currently digging the box of Christmas décor out from under the basement stairs. All the celebrations are starting early this year. The pumpkins came on display mid-August and now, with barely a chill in the air, I tear through the boxes stored in my basement searching for all my Christmas cheer.

There are usually two very staunch camps of people when it comes to decorating for Christmas:

  1. The “Day After Thanksgiving” crowd that believes any Christmas paraphernalia prior to that November day shows sheer irreverence.
  2. The “Whenever I Feel Like It” crowd that has already ushered in Bing Crosby’s mellow crooning before the leaves start to golden.

While the former is usually my crowd, we are deep in a pandemic and I’ve decided to gleefully switch camps. Our society needs the cheer right now in whatever way we can get it and this house LOVES Christmas.

I clap my hands like an excited toddler the moment that I eye the box marked “Christmas Village” and race up the basement stairs before I change my mind.

While I intended to unbox just one or two of my Christmas cottages on my already cluttered dining room table, my Type A personality whispers, “Maybe just one Christmas cottage will be enough of the fix I need to carry me until November’s end.”

Well, one more is not enough after all and 30 minutes later I find myself surrounded by not just the village, but all my goodies from Christmases past.

Rediscovering the Tree

Pulling out all the bubble wrapped ornaments and decorations, I see my favorite pieces snuggly tucked in the furthest corner of the box. Two ceramic Christmas trees, one vintage and one newer, peeking out from the newspaper and bubble wrap combo that ensured its safe arrival into the next season.

Unrolling the vintage tree from the wrapping, I take inventory of any new cracks or breaks. Dust covers the entire figure and a few new scratches appear. I shake the newspaper and a few pieces of green glass and colored plastic light bulbs tumble on to the table. I take note of the empty holes where the bulbs once rested, and the new chips to the painted ceramic, and I wonder if it can all be fixed.

The trees’ unique designs bear handcrafted markings and I always add them as the finishing touches to my yuletide village.

It dawns on me in this moment of discovery though, that I have on idea how the original one came to be in my possession, a fact I needed to rectify immediately.

Searching for Its Origin Story

I sent out a few questioning texts to family members with a picture of the older tree included thinking surely one of them is the original owner.

The replies start rolling in:

“ No clue,” “Not mine,” and “Ask Mom”

These are the general sentiments.

Five minutes later, my mother-in-law calls me with her rich, singsong Southern accent, “Hey Darling. I have one of those from the seventies, but it doesn’t quite look like that one.”

Later that night, I gingerly wipe off the dust that outlines all the creases and corners of the glass leaves. My husband notices and simply says, “Oh you found my tree!”

I stop and wait for more.

“It was my grandmother’s,” he tenderly explains. “She had it in her assisted living home in the early eighties and I played with it every time that I would visit her. I remember that I would drive my toy cars around it constantly. After she died, it was given to my father who gave it to me. “

A smile softens his face as he continues, “You know when I was with her, we sat and played. There wasn’t a television or a device that entertained me. We connected.”

What Goes Around Comes Around

Apparently, the allure of these iconic pieces of nostalgia has affected more than just me. Having once gained popularity 40 years ago, they seem to be receiving their encore. I take note of them in every hobby and craft store I’ve ventured into.

However, the updated versions come in varied colors and sizes, more pronounced details, sharper edges and mostly battery powered rather than plug in.

I even bought a new one myself, thinking that a repair job on the aged and cracked piece would be too time consuming, and simplicity would come from just leaving it in the box. Making repairs seemed too tedious. Yet, I cannot seem to return a remnant of my husband’s history back to said box. Some things are worth the work required.

Mending the Broken

A couple days later a delivery of replacement bulbs arrives at my front door and I start the process of repairing the vintage tree with my equally-as-ancient yellow glue gun.

While I work, my thoughts steer towards the holidays and how different they may look this year. I look down at the shards of broken ceramic in my hands and I once again ponder what my husband said about his grandmother and the time spent playing around this tree: “We connected”.

Throughout a lifetime, our own personal connections and relationships all endure their fair amount of wear and tear. Hand-crafted connections obtain simple nicks and bumps along the way, but others may accrue more significant damage. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some connections even break and crack. We gaze at the damage and wonder if it is beyond repair, or if the mending is worthy of the pain and effort?

Walking away is easier, leaving the broken and bruised behind is safer. Replacing the fractured with the new and unharmed appeals to the hurting. It is an uncomplicated work. Staying to mend and repair is the challenging work, the daring work, the worthwhile work.

The Takeaway

When my patchwork is completed, I position the newly restored heirloom to the center of the dining room table. I want to fully examine my labor of love, mainly to see if I can spot any evidence of my mending. I can. However, it is only slightly and oddly enough it adds to its story rather than detract from it.

Everyone who lays eyes on it will now know that it has lived a life. A life of moves, kids, scratches, bumps against table edges and storage boxes shoved in the back of garages. It possesses history and history is always worth saving.

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