Irony, an update

Irony is a cruel teacher. A couple hours after I published yesterday’s post on Christmas tree tradition, I prepared to decorate this year’s tree. My husband stacked the containers of ornaments in the back hall, and as soon as I popped the lid of the top one, my heart sank. Mildew. I lifted the lid and slammed it closed a second later. Not ready to believe what I’d seen, I pushed it back out on the porch.

We knew we had a leak in the garage roof, so we’ve stored all our Christmas decorations in plastic bins under a tarp. The lid on this one was still closed tight, and there were no obvious cracks in it or the bin, yet somehow water had entered this one. Where I live, it rarely rains from April to October. We had our leaky garage reroofed in late summer, so for at least seven months fungus had been growing in the container. We sprayed half a can of Lysol before even attempting to look through things. All the boxes fell apart when touched. I attempted to wash off the glass ornaments, but they were so damaged the paint came off immediately. At least seventy purchased ornaments went into the trashcan.

I hated that waste, but that’s not what upset me. The largest box in the container—the one with the thickest growth—contained ALL the handmade ornaments from my children’s and grandchildren’s school days. The kind made mostly of paper and yarn, the most fragile and most loved. My favorite bulb from my own childhood was stored in that box, as were my beautiful hand-painted glass eggs and the tree topper we’d used for decades. And my last golden bird. Gone. Gone. Gone.

Only one thing was salvaged. One. A maroon glazed-clay disk engraved with a star, made by my son, Michael, is the lone survivor. With a new gold ribbon hanger, this one ornament will now represent all my family Christmas memories.

I cried.  Of course. But what’s done is done. I must let it go. During the process of dealing with the damage, not one writerly thought distracted me. But later, after the shock wore off, I started to analyze. I wondered at the coincidence of my writing about memories and tradition so soon before the loss of physical objects that embodied some of mine. Considering the sadness, near grief, I felt when I accepted the destruction of those personal treasures, I glimpsed how truly devastating it must be to suffer the loss of every personal item by fire or flood.

There’s a lesson for me in this event. For me, this year has been a progression of losses, some minor, some not. The pessimist in me prays I’m not being prepared for a greater loss soon. The optimist hopes this was only a reminder to value what’s most important, and let the lesser things go. Any thoughts?


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47 thoughts on “Irony, an update

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss, Linda. It must be devastating. Holding on to tangible pieces of memory always feels like it’s the memory itself.

    Like you, I’m a split personality — optimist/pessimist. Pessimism is usually directed at myself.

    I believe this is a reminder to cherish what’s most important and let the rest go.

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  2. Oh, Linda–my heart breaks for you. When Ian and I had a matter of minutes to take things from our apartment before Katrina struck, I took only picture albums and my box of Christmas ornaments from our family tree growing up–and this was before our children were born–so I can absolutely understand the level of your despair over losing your treasures. I am so sorry.

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  3. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your precious ornaments. I’m so happy you at least had the one left from Michael. It is beautiful and all the more precious. I’m a hurricane Katrina survivor from New Orleans who did lose all the “stuff”, save the house itself. I came out with my family alive and well so I still had it all. All my original poetry and writings pre katrina….gone! Starting over has the reward of knowing that from this point on, you will take nothing for granted. God bless you this season and thanks for sharing your precious gift of writing and insight with the rest of us Linda.

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  4. How sad. You know, we try to pretend that those small material things don’t matter that much, but when they represent memories of precious times and people we love, the loss really hurts.
    Get together with all your children and grandchildren and have them each make a new decoration. Of course, they won’t replace the old childhood ones, but, who knows, it may be a new family experience.
    Christa

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  5. Oh, this is a heartbreaker for sure. I’m sorry. Can you put some of the things outside in the sunlight for a couple of days? Perhaps there is something salvageable after all.

    And if not (and even if so), Christa’s suggestion of getting together to make new ornaments is a great one to build new treasures and memories.

    Your optimistic self is right, Linda.

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    1. Everything was soaked in a fungus stew, Natasha. All the things with paper were just mush. And I washed off and soaked with Lysol the few things that weren’t, but the smell had permeated them. And you’re right, I’ll kick that pessimist out of here. 🙂

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  6. You have my heartfelt sympathy, Linda. Life hands out some lemons. Enjoy the vitamin C? Nah. I like your conclusion: The optimist hopes this was only a reminder to value what’s most important, and let the lesser things go. This sounds like wisdom to me. Blessings…

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  7. How awful. I will miss your bird from Germany that you displayed on your blog seasonally. Sorry about the loss of the handmade ornaments. That’s gotta hurt.

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  8. I’m truly sorry for you, but think about this: You still have all your wonderful memories of all those things and moments. They will truly never be gone because they’re in your heart. Not trying to diminish the hurt, but sometimes we forget about that.

    When moving once, careless movers squashed a box of mine filled with things that were not only breakable but of huge sentimental value. As gutted as I was, I realised that I still had the people who’d given me those things, and even if some were no longer with me, I still had all the memories of them in my soul.

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  9. Oh Linda–I’m so sorry! How devastating. I would have been a puddle for hours if it had been me.

    So many lovely things have already been said that I won’t repeat them… I will simply add that I hope the optimist in you wins out and that the pessimist is just plain wrong.

    Amy

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  10. Who wouldn’t cry at a loss like that? Maybe you could tell your kids what happened and ask all of them to bring something new for the tree this year.

    It is ironic, one of those happenings that the universe throws us from time to time.

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  11. Linda, you rock!

    “I cried. Of course. But what’s done is done. I must let it go.”

    Wondering about the irony and “coincidence” myself:

    “But later, after the shock wore off, I started to analyze. I wondered at the coincidence of my writing about memories and tradition so soon before the loss of physical objects that embodied some of mine.”

    Preparation perhaps? A chance to see that memories can be shared even when the physical objects are no where in sight? Even when they are gone forever?

    The more willing we are to accept the ‘what is” . . . the less pain and hardship we have to endure. We just let it drift away.

    Beautiful write and your sole remaining ornament is a “keeper.”

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    1. Perhaps you might say it to your reflection each morning to start your day ~ it’s a positive affirmation designed to encourage the BEST LINDA to emerge and surface:

      Linda, you rock!!! 🙂

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  12. it’s amazing, isn’t it, what we store in things. Things hold memory, and they become sometimes more important than the memory. I realized that I have to enjoy the now, not the then. But, it is oh so hard. I lost all my childhood ornaments; my parents divorced and neither knew where any of it went. I was upset for a long long time. I teared up when reading this (i’ll blame it in the hormones), but I’m really sorry for it, Linda. I imagine that one star will now hold more memory maybe than all those boxes did.

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  13. My heart goes out to you, Linda. Our family home burned to the ground – nothing was salvaged. Today I have one baby picture of me. Oddly enough, I don’t need another. However, I was overcome with joy at discovering that one photo. An aunt had it tucked somewhere. The old photos of parents and grandparents had to come from other members of the family. Today that would be so easy to do…50 years ago it was not.

    That fire did two things for me. I know that all I have can all be gone in a moment. I also I know that I can forever keep the appreciation for what I have in front of me this moment. As a friend said recently after finding out that she does not have cancer, “I’ve been living in the pin prick point of the present. I want to stay here.”

    She’s wise.

    I’m glad you are allowing yourself to grieve. It’s necessary and I really hope somewhere in all our stories, you find some comfort.

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    1. I just read an article yesterday that said meditating daily on that “pin prick point” is better than medication for staving off depression. It’s called “mindfulness” in Zen Buddhism.

      Yes, all these kind comments have helped me let go of that loss. 🙂

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  14. So sorry, that’s really sad.
    Dread to think how I would have reacted. We have so many treasures accumulated over the years, hand-made ones and ornaments bought in various foreign countries, They all have a story and we love to reminisce while we put them on the tree.
    I lost a little memento last week. That’s life, I suppose. Nothing is ever more precious than our dear ones and we have memories etched in our hearts.

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    1. Thank you, Elle. I’ve been thinking about this since it happened and now I see it as a reminder of two things for me. I think I’ll write a post about that later this week. I have many photographs of our Christmas trees through the years. I haven’t had time to look yet, but my hope is those special ones appear in those photos. Do you have photographs of your collection?

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  15. I can’t imagine how devastating that must have been for you, Linda.

    Yet we are all resilient. We lose, we cry, we pick up the pieces, and yet that time to grieve those loses are a necessity.

    Above it all, one survived. That must mean something. I choose to think it does.I’m convinced you will one day look at that solitary ornament and immediately know its meaning.

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  16. I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s always sad losing such precious sentimental items as ornaments.

    My mom sat down with me when I was 2 or 3 years old and we made Christmas ornaments out of walnuts. Over the years they have broken or fallen apart. I used to look every year to see what was left until I moved out of state. I’m not even sure if any still survive to this day. I am now on a missiopn to find them when I return home this holiday season.

    Again I’m so sorry for your loss.

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  17. Linda, I found your blog just recently through twitter (via Christi Craig and Victoria Flynn), and I’m so glad I did. I’m so sorry to hear about your Christmas ornaments, especially after that beautiful post you wrote about Christmas tree traditions.

    I’ve been collecting tree ornaments since I was a child, so I have some sense of how much they mean to you. You wrote in response to one of the comments that you’ve been “paring away and simplifying your life” these past few years; I would think those actions imbued your ornaments with even more meaning because they were things you chose to keep.

    I’m sure the pin prick will feel more like a big pang at times. I’m glad you were able to salvage the one; it is lovely.

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  18. I had a similar experience yesterday. My grandmother past in October of 2009. Yesterday would have been her 84th birthday.
    On Thanksgiving my Uncle gave my sister my Grandmother’s China, something her and I both worried would get lost in the shuffle of all our family.
    She went to New York the day after Thanksgiving and just yesterday opened the box of China. Broken, broken, BROKEN! My grandmothers china, handed down in our family for generations, broken!

    So sorry for your loss. I am glad you were able to salvage at least one treasure. Now would be a good time to start a new tradition with your sons and grandkids.

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