Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Heirloom Ornaments

This article  was scheduled to be published in FOLK Magazine Christmas 2013.  I have no idea what the publication status is and have cut ties with the magazine.  I came across this ornament as I was taking down my tree over the weekend, and I felt the need to share my Grandmother's story even though Christmas 2013 is now behind us.
If we are lucky as adults, we have ornaments from our childhood to pass on to our children.  If we are extra lucky, we have at least one ornament from our parents’ childhood to covet as our own.  It is in these small holiday tokens that live legacies of love and triumph.
My grandmother loved color.  Pink and teal particularly.  Style gurus of 1950’s homemakers had nothing on her.  She raised my mother in a Cape Cod style house my Grandfather built high on a hill overlooking the Shetucket River in Eastern Connecticut.  Her kitchen was done in teal tile, she served simple meals on bright Fiesta dishes, and baked the finest éclairs in New England.   A silver tinsel tree was her signature Christmas centerpiece and upon it were hung the sweetest pink ornaments Woolworths offered.  Mingled in were blown glass ornaments my Great Grandparents brought with them from Czechoslovakia.  And in my Grandmother’s driveway a mammoth 1955 turquoise Buick was the envy of the neighborhood.   She would have to learn to drive it after my Grandfather’s sudden death when my Mom was only ten. Though years of transitioning from a homemaking queen to a single parent would bring difficulty, financial strife and resilience, that silver tree was finely decorated every Christmas as a testament to my Grandmother’s, and my Mother’s, strength to thrive.
Every December, I unwrap an ornament that once hung on my Grandmother’s tree.  I have only one.  I hold it to the sun as the light shines through the mercury glass and shadows tiny hand-painted blue flowers.  I snuck it away from my Mother’s collection one Christmas when I was home from college.  These were the precious bulbs stored in a tattered box with edges secured so many times the box was pretty much tape and dust.  Inside, the vintage ornaments looked like creamy curved marzipan treats peeking through time-thinned tissue paper.  My Grandmother passed away when I was a high school sophomore, before I had a chance to appreciate the lessons she often shared.  This ornament is feather light, delicate, ornate in its simplicity.  Just like my Grandmother.  Four feet ten inches and maybe 90 pounds after a hearty meal.  My Grandmother went to work in the Ponemah velvet mills after my Grandfather died.  She never complained.  Never cried where anyone could see.  Never gave the impression that a woman needed a man for anything.  Always preached love.  Always practiced determination. Always shone with bright color when most other women would have faded to black.
Over the years I have collected vintage ornaments to simulate my Grandmother’s collection, to hold dear the memories my Mother guards with old boxes in cedar chests. To share in the silent strengths that hang in the remains of love snuffed out too early. Pink ornaments now cover my own silver tinsel  tree. And as my daughter joins me in decorating, I share stories of my Grandmother, my Mother, and the Grandfather I never knew in hopes their legacies will fuel generations yet to come. 


  1. Thank you so much for sharing the story of your grandmother's ornament! Such a precious story, the ornament is beautiful.