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A Tree to Remember

Usko - January 16, 2023

Photo by - Usko


Like hundreds of lightning bugs waking up after a long nap, the lights twinkle, and carols play softly in the background as I snap open my first boxes of ornaments. It is my annual ritual. The same music hums in my ears as I cover the Christmas tree in memories of years past.

I carefully unwrap the tissue paper protecting the first ornaments, a pair of ballerinas my great-aunt gave me when I turned 10 because she thought I was finally old enough to have a pretty ornament. I hang them next to each other so they appear to be caught in a perpetual dance on the tree branches. Flitting around the tree, I cover every side with memories. A bristly pack of animals stampede the branches while miniature trains chug their way up the treacherous slope. Princesses and nutcrackers dance around the tree as angels zip around on wire wings.

Some ornaments are so old we don’t even know why they’re there, but we hang them nonetheless. We hang ornaments we made years ago and those from my mom’s travels across the world. This year, half a dozen new ornaments from our summer trip in Europe join the tree, Venetian glass and Austrian crystal sparkling alongside long-worn wood and clay. My family’s adventures have been crystallized in plastic and glass. With each one I pick up, I try to remember why it’s there as if I can bring the memory to life for a moment through the sculptures.

As I work my way around, I notice how cluttered the tree has become. I can barely find a branch to spare.

I stop, seeing how alien the girl in the various handcrafted ornaments looks. I look to my tree and see her hiding in the branches, her eyes gleaming with mischief. I read the squiggly letters scrawled beneath each of her faces. I see hints of her littering my perfect tree. She wears her hair long and loves the color pink. I hang her ornaments on the tree beside mine with the strange feeling that I don’t know her. I don’t remember what she liked or how it felt to be her. I try to find her inside of me, but I can’t. It was so long ago and I have changed so much; all that keeps her here is these little plastic ornaments. I wrap the tree in tinsel like my mom used to. Now she tells me I’m old enough to do it myself. The wavy string winds its way to the bottom of my tree.

I drag over a chair and perch myself on top, stretching my arms like a child who can’t quite reach the top shelf. I clasp the star into place and finally my job is done.

I step back, and the girl and I admire our work.

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