That latter bit is tied to the rest of the undecorating. All the Christmas decorations, including the outdoor lights, are stored away in a set of smallish boxes carefully crammed onto the shelves in the walk-in closet. So the only way to put anything away is to pull out all ten boxes and open them up so things can be packed into the as I unwind the tree.
Since I took the tree down Saturday both Michael and I have commented on feeling a sense of disorientation when we walk past that part of the house. It’s a little worse this year because we also left the card table up much longer after the party this year. The last couple of years we extended the dining room table by putting the card table at the end of it. And while the dining room table had this dark red cloth table cloth, the coffee table got one of those green plastic temporary table cloths. So it look festive enough for the party, but sort of tacky afterward. This year, though, I picked up a long poinsettia and holly table cloth for the dining room table, and a shorter whit and gold snowflake one for the coffee table. So it looked much less tacky after the party… and I just left it there until this last weekend. So two different parts of the living room-dining room-library space that had been occupied by something furniture-ish are now empty. And it just feels weird.
Meanwhile, I’ve discovered what may be a new (and very unwanted) tradition. To explain it takes a bit of background: The first Christmas here in Shoreline, two years ago, was the first time after we downsized from the 20-some much bigger boxes full ornaments (also known as, the cumulative whackiness of 22+ years of choosing a new theme for the following year’s tree, scouring after-Christmas sales for discount ornaments that would match said theme, plus picking up or making new ornaments that following season to complete the theme). Even with the downsizing, we still have way more ornaments than are needed for or 7′ narrow artificial tree. So the decorating still involves choosing maybe not so much a full blown theme as an emphasis. The first year for basic color we put on only the red, green, and gold glass ornaments. Then any ornament that could be called arctic or antarctic (polar bears, penguins, snowy owls, seals, and all the Alaska Snow Babies, for instance). Plus a few faves that always go on no matter what.
That meant that a particular box of 12 red and green ornaments glass ball ornaments had gone on the tree. But when we were undecorating, I could only find 11 of the red and green glass balls. Before I boxed everything up and put them away, got Michael to help me search under furniture and such trying to find either the missing ornament or evidence of broken shards of the ornament. We couldn’t find either. Michael suggested the roomba might have pushed it into a spot in one of the back rooms that we hadn’t so carefully searched. So we put the boxes away, and I made sure that the box containing the other eleven was easy to get to, in hopes that we would eventually find the missing ball in some weird part of the house.
Two years later, still no sign of the 12th red and green ornament.
Last year, our second Christmas here, for basic color I pulled out all the purple and pink glass ornaments, and a lot of the Star Trek and Star Wars ornaments… but also some of our favorites. And again, when I was putting them away, a box set of 9 purple pine cones with silver glitter had gone on the tree, but I could only find 8 purple pine cones when we took the tree down. Again, neither of us could find the ornament underneath furniture or in weird corners of the room. So again we boxed everything and hoped it would turn up.
One year later, still no sign of the 9th purple pine cone.
This year I pulled out the ice and snow colored ornaments, plus anything that could be construed as a character from a story, and our usual favorites. Stories meant that this set of 6 Winnie-the-Pooh themed ornaments that consist of pressed board printed with colored illustrations from the original book, with pink-tinted scalloped edges went on the tree. Ice & snow meant that a set of blown glass ornaments that looking like inverted clear rain drops with hand-painted poinsettias around the “equator” of the broadest part of each drop also went on. When I was undecorating the tree, one of the rain drops broke in my hand (but I didn’t get cut!), which was sad, so the box with its six spots for the ornaments only has five ornaments, now. And I could only find five of the Winnie-the-Pooh ornaments.
So, once again, we have one missing ornament from a set that we can’t seem to find anywhere in the house.
Now, ornaments break and otherwise occasionally get lost, I get that. And maybe during the previous 22 years one ornament a year was the norm, and I just didn’t notice because we had so friggin’ many different sets; I don’t know. But this is beginning to annoy me. I mean, by now we should have found some sign of one of those lost ornaments somewhere in the house, right?
Anyway, third grade and fourth grade were the years we moved several times during the same school year. Of the ten elementary schools I attended, five of them where those two grades alone2. Because of the packing, unpacking, moving, and so forth—and while Dad’s job often indicated within a certain window how long we would be in one place, the exact date we’d need to move wasn’t always certain—Dad agreed to let Mom buy an artificial tree in November because we might have to move in the middle of the holiday season. That year was also the first year that we didn’t drive back to my paternal grandparents’ place for Thanksgiving.
I think that at least half the reason Mom decided to set up the tree the day after Thanksgiving was because with deep snow and temps well below zero Farenheit, being trapped in our small house with my sister and I for three days was going to be a nightmare if she didn’t come up with something to keep us occupied for a decent amount of time.
The tree was only four feet tall—short enough that Mom could set it up on top of the console stereo. It still loomed over the room, but there wasn’t enough tree to hold all of the ornaments we owned. This made deciding what to put on where a major undertaking, with more than a little bit of arguing3 between my sister and I. If I’m right about why Mom decided to set up the tree that day, I think her plan backfired.
Because here’s the really funny thing: Both that year and the next, about three weeks before Christmas, we had to pack up everything—including undecorating the tree and boxing it back up—and move. In third grade, we moved from Kimball, Nebraska to Opal, Wyoming. In fourth grade the move was from Ft. Morgan, Colorado to Roosevelt, Utah.4
Anyway, the upshot is that for the rest of my childhood, Christmases were celebrated with that same artificial tree. The tree didn’t get retired until I was in my early twenties, after Mom remarried and moved to Arizona with her new husband, while I, still trying to save up money to transfer from community college to university, moved in with my paternal grandparents. As an adult, I’ve bought cut trees for Christmas twice, but otherwise have always had an artificial tree6. Back in 2000 or 2001 Michael and I bought a new 7-foot tall “pencil pine” tree. Unlike other trees we’d had, the body of the tree is very narrow, so it’s easy to fit into a small room, but still tall enough to create the big tree effect, and it holds a lot of ornaments. A couple years ago while we were setting it up, Michael pointed out how some of the branches had lost enough plastic needles to looks scraggly, and some branches were awfully loose. So we used it one more year, and then in an after Christmas sale we bought another, similar tree.
I hung up Christmas lights out on the veranda in the afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving. And then I unboxed our Christmas tree and hauled out the boxes of ornaments. Which is a much smaller collection than we used to own7. The first discovery was that while the tree doesn’t quite touch the ceiling, the two glass spire-style toppers we kept won’t fit atop the tree because of the slightly lower ceiling at this apartment than the old. However, the third topper we kept8, which is a teddy bear dressed as Santa, just barely fit. He is literally touching the ceiling, but he fits!
I got the lights on, which always takes a while, because I’ll string them on, decide they are uneven, unwind them, try again, et cetera. I’ll get myself very dizzy at least once along the way. Then I put a few ornaments on. But I was also doing laundry, and Michael talked me into going on a walk with him at one point, so by bedtime I had started on the tree, but hadn’t finished.
Saturday morning I resumed. This is the first year since 1997 that I didn’t have some kind of theme for the tree. Doing a different color scheme and theme every year is only part of the reason we owned more christmas decorations than any eight normal households could possibly use. And because I got rid of so many, I was feeling an urge to fit as much as possible of what remained on the tree. But I still wanted it to look non-random? Which wasn’t really working.
So… I was having a panic as I hung ornaments because I couldn’t find my Great-grandma’s ornaments. Great-grandma bought a box of mixed-color ornaments on sale in 19579. Great-grandma used them on a little artificial tree at her house until Great-grandpa died in 1974, at which point she moved to the coast to live with Grandma. Great-grandma died about six months after Great-grandpa. The ornaments then spent 30-ish years sitting in the storage shed at Grandma’s house. Apparently Grandma used them only once after Great-grandma died, then boxed them up. So after Grandma died, Mom found them in the shed. When she sent me a picture, I gasped, because even though I hadn’t seen them since I was 13 years old, I immediately recognized them.
Mom split them up. She kept three, then my sister, one cousin who expressed interest, and I got three each. I have put them on my own tree every year, regardless of the theme of the year. So when I couldn’t find them, I was freaking out.
I was afraid I had accidentally mixed them up with others and taken them to Value Village.
I was getting more and more frantic while going through the boxes. By the time my husband woke up I must have been really bad, because moments after coming into the room, he asked, “Do you need to sit down for a minute?”As I told him what was wrong, I pointed at the open boxes lined up that I had been taking ornaments from. I paused.
There were only seven file-box sized boxes. “Wait! I distinctly remember figuring out that I could fit eight boxes in the closet before I started purging,” I said. I grabbed a flashlight and went back to the walk-in closet. Yes, hiding under the coats was an eighth box. Which of course had Great-grandma’s ornaments. It also contained a few other special ornaments that I had thought we kept, but that I hadn’t been able to find.
Eventually on Saturday evening we declared the tree finished and I put the boxes of unused ornaments back in the closet.
That wasn’t all of the decorating. Partway through Saturday I was feeling a bit of cabin fever. I had unpacked some non-tree decorations and decided we needed a table runner to go with the dark red table cloth. Especially if I was going to put another of Great-grandma’s old decorations (her plastic Santa, sleigh, and reindeer centerpiece) out. And that led to the acquisition of an outdoor decoration that is another story all its own. But I should save that for later, as this post is incredibly long, already.We have the tree up now. It doesn’t have an official theme, but as I was picking ornaments out, I realized I was picking mostly red, green, gold, and white ornaments. Michael noted that there was something of an arctic theme, since I started by putting all the C. Alan Johnson ornaments on first (we hadn’t used any of those since the Pole-to-Pole tree a few years ago), along with polar bears, seals, and white owls. Of course, there are also three penguins, so we could think of this as a sequel to Pole-to-Pole. I don’t think I will. I’m perfectly okay with it just being the ornaments I decided to use this year, no theme. It’s just our tree—our Christmas/Solstice tree.
1. Which prompted Grandpa to say, “Which is why you’re supposed to get a permit.”
2. Also five different states.
3. And there was some crying at at least one point.
4. And if you’re curious: we lived in Opal5 for only about two months, then had to pack up and follow Dad’s oil rig out to Cheyenne Well, Colorado, very close to the Kansas border. In June we moved Healy, Kansas, and we literally were still unpacking when the job shifted to Fort Morgan, and we had to move back to Colorado.
5. Which is pronounced by the residents as “oh, PAL” rather than the way most folks pronounce the gemstone it is named after.
6. Among other advantages of artificial trees are they don’t set off horrible hay fever attacks for me during the one time of the year that it is usually cold enough in the northwest that I’m not dealing with pollen or spores from outside.
7. Achievement unlocked: No Shuttling Weekend! (And we can haz library?), where among other things I hauled three big Subaru loads of Christmas decorations to Value Village.
8. A subset of our old decorations was a collection that was started by my late husband, Ray, which we called The Tacky Tree Topper collection: five or six different kinds of vary garish stars and two different illuminated plastic wreaths. Plus we had those glass spire toppers in just about every color scheme we’ve ever done (purple, red, green, blue, three different pinks, gold, silver…). Then there were the not-tacky stars (one of was bronze, one was silver and white), a thing that looked like a spray of gold glitter… four or five Sants (one with a purple robe, one with a red, one with a green, one with an ice blue… oh, and a burgundy robed one!)… and so on.
9. We know because she kept the box and it had the receipt inside it, I kid you not.
My love for Halloween began long before I knew that it used to be considered the high holy days of queers everywhere. Which was true at least since the 1920s until the straights co-opted it for Heteroween2. But I recognize that at least some of the reasons I loved Halloween back then are the same reason the holiday appealed to queer people for so long:
- it was a day I could dress up as silly or weird as I wished without getting strange looks from people;
- it was a day where other people would show off bits of their personality that weren’t obvious the rest of the year;
- being closeted cultivated an ability to find humor in the absurdities and misfortunes of life;
- trying to get along as a queer child in a straight world means that embracing make-believe and pretending to be what we aren’t a survival trait;
…which fits right in with Halloween!
Of course, when I say I could dress as silly as I wished, that wasn’t entirely true. I remember, for instance, the year that I really wanted to dress up as the character of Witchie-Poo from the Saturday morning live action show, H.R. Pufnstuf. Mom didn’t act appalled, but she argued with me until I gave in and let her buy me the really tacky H.R. Pufnstuf costume. Pufnstuf was supposed to be a dragon who was the Mayor of the enchanted island where the show’s action took place, but the store-bought costume was just a weird shaped green mask and a generic green onesie that had a picture of the character printed on the chest. My sister mentioned that I had wanted to dress up as Witchie-Poo within earshot of my dad and I got yelled at quite seriously about how boys don’t dress up as witches!
It wasn’t even that the character of Witchie-Poo appealed to me that much3. My recollection is that the store-bought costume for her had a magic wand prop, and I really wanted the magic wand. Of course, she was the villain of the show and I quite frequently find myself sympathizing with the villains.
Our friends that have been hosting a Halloween party almost every year for about 30 years are skipping this year. So I don’t think either of us will be making a costume. And although they gave us plenty of warning that we could have opted to host our own party, all of the years of going to their themed and wonderfully decorated parties casts a more-than-slightly intimidating shadow over the notion.
Maybe we’ll just try to get together with some people on the Saturday before.
But I have been working on my new Halloween playlist. I spent a lot of the last week listening to every single Halloween playlist I have made in the past4 as I decide what kind of list to put together this year. I have one assembled, I just haven’t decided if it is finished or still needs some tweaking.
Whether there is a party of not, or any dressing up, I still intend to enjoy myself, getting my spook on in various ways for the rest of the month.
Let’s have fun!
1. My husband and I don’t believe in handing out so-called “fun size” candy. We usually get a few cases of full sized bars in hopes that we will get lots of kids.
2. But that’s okay. Straights need a socially sanctioned night to dress up as sexy nurses or sexy firemen. They’re so reppressed the rest of the year!
3. I mean, I thought she was hilarious, but…
4. Fifteen such lists in my iTunes library, by the way.
So the usual pattern is that around the time I realize that my birthday is coming up (which is also the beginning of Gene-Isn’t-Allowed-To-Buy-Himself-Things Season) until the anniversary of his death mid-November, I’m more prone to feeling down, being cranky, and getting deeply sentimental and/or crying over inconsequential things.
This year has, thus far, not been too bad. Yeah, there’s still a month and a half to go, but usually if it’s a bad year I’ll have had several bouts of surprise cries by the time his birthday gets here. This year, it’s just been a little tearing up over things.I have various ways of dealing with the mood swings. Sometimes when I’m trying to write or work on some other project that requires concentrating, but I find my mind wandering down sentimental pathways, I recruit Elton. Elton was one of Ray’s favorite tigers. He’s soft and floppy (which means it’s easy to pose him in various settings). It’s amazing how getting him out and setting him next to me at the computer, or draping him over something so he’s watching me will help. It’s like whenever I look at the tiger I can hear Ray’s voice saying, “Hey, Buster, shouldn’t you be writing?”
I had thought the mood swings and depression might be worse this year, since this is the first fall since Ray died that I’m no longer living in the last home we shared together. That hasn’t been the case. Perhaps because sentimentality is often triggered by familiar sights and sounds. When I step outside on my way to work each morning, for instance, I don’t see the rose bush he planted any longer.
I will say that one of the advantages of the new place and the way we have replaced some furniture has given me a great opportunity to put a lot of the plushies in new locations. And because many locations are determined by the size and pose of a particular plush to fit at a particular place, that’s brought a bunch that used to be half hidden at the old place out where they’re easier to see. And because at the old place we tended to leave a plushie where it was until some compelling reason arrived to rearrange a bunch, the ones I’ve owned longest (and therefore are most likely to have memories of Ray associated with them) were more often half buried by others.
Maybe the new setting is why most of the random reminiscing has been of the warm fuzzy feelings kind and less of the sobbing in sorrow sort.
In any case, if Ray were here, about this time tomorrow he would be asking me, “So, how are we going to decorate for Halloween?” It’s because of the way Ray encouraged the kitschy decorator in me that I’ve long referred to the entire period from late September through at least New Year’s (and often all the way until Easter) as Decorating Season. That’s right! It’s not just Halloween and Christmas we can decorate for! Decorative gourds and cornucopias and cartoon turkeys can be deployed during November, hearts and cupids or just red and pink roses from late January until Valentine’s day, then you have St Paddy’s and Easter. I probably won’t go all out on all of them, but I see that several of our neighbors have already put Halloween things in their windows, so I need to get at least my new Spooky Banner that I bought last year (And because the building was being shown to prospective buyers, I wasn’t allowed to put up until the day before Halloween) up where people can see it.
Because as soon as I saw that first pumpkin and spider in a neighbor’s window, I heard Ray’s voice in my head ask, “Hey, Buster, shouldn’t you be decorating?”
They weren’t bad reasons. Sometimes I’d look at the potential gift, think about how many months it was until Christmas, and worry that the person would buy it for themselves before Christmas arrived. Or that someone else would give it to them at some other gift-giving opportunity. Or I myself, while looking at the gift, would realize the person’s birthday was only a mont or two away, and I’d buy the gift, but as a birthday present, instead.
Then one year, at a science fiction convention in March, I kept happening on things that would be perfect presents for certain friends, and they were unusual enough that I was relatively confident none of our mutual friends would purchase it. And I picked up presents for about seven of the people on our usual list of a couple dozen people. And once I had a box in the bedroom that already had presents for several people, it was really easy of the course of the next few months to take the plunge and pick up presents as I found them.
And then I got laid off on the last day of June.
I wasn’t unemployed for very long, but my jobs for the rest of the year were contract gigs through agencies. Some of them only lasted a couple of weeks. My take-home pay for each was considerably less (particularly since I was paying our medical insurance all out of pocket) than it had been.
Already having half the usual presents acquired helped in a couple of ways. First, there was simply a smaller number of gifts that I wanted to acquire than usual during that last half of the year. But also, because there were already gifts for a bunch of people, I had an incentive to no just throw up my hands and say, “no one’s getting anything from me this year” or whatever. I didn’t want to hand one friend this really nice thing I’d picked up in March, and then hand their spouse or significant other whom I usually picked up nice things for an obvious token gift, right?
What that did was keep me on the look-out for thoughtful gifts constantly. And that helped my attitude. Maybe it’s just me, but thinking out things I’d like to give to people I care about makes me feel good. I can’t be depressed while imagining how much a friend is going to enjoy this cool thing I found for them.
Yes, there are lots of things we spent less money on that year. But we still had a really fun Christmas.
Then the last week of the year I started work as a regular employee at a new job, at a salary and with benefits that put us back in the kind of shape we’d been in before I got laid off. And because I’d gotten into the habit of keeping my eye out all year for presents, the next year by the time December rolled around, I already had presents for a bit more than half the usual list. We still had to do a bunch of shopping in December, but it was a lot less than in most previous years—less stressful and more fun.
I don’t know what happened this year.
It didn’t even occur to me until midway through November that I had picked up nothing: not one single gift for any of our friends or family. Why? I have no clue. Even when, last summer, announcements were made at work which indicated upper management at work was looking to sell the company (which might mean a big change in my employment situation), it didn’t make me think, “I should start working on Christmas, now, while I’ve got time.”
So, here we are, it’s December already. We’re way behind on our usual decorating. I hadn’t done any shopping or even any real thinking about what to get for people until just this weekend. So we’re in a scramble at the end of the year. And there have been more announcements at work, another company has tendered an offer. In a few months I’m either going to be an employee of the new owner or looking for a new job altogether.
I’m trying not to let any of this get me stressed out. I’m 99% certain that I was feeling down last week and very cranky much of the weekend because I’ve been fighting off a cold, and the remodeling at work filled the office with fumes that irritated my sinuses and eyes, and noise and disruption that just make things a teensy bit of a hassle throughout the day.
The truth is, decorating and wrapping and all of that makes me happy. As my husband noted on Sunday evening, when I was up to my eyeballs in boxes of decorations I’d hauled up from the basement, after putting lights on the bushes in front of the house and so forth, that it was the first time he’d seen me smiling in a few days.
So, let’s get this holiday show on the road!
Decorating the house always goes in phases. This year complicated first by me having some bad gout at the end of November and a few days into December (just before my doctor agreed that we should treat this more aggressively, so now I’m on meds for it), second by knowing that the front door was going to be replaced (so I didn’t want to put up wreaths), third by the theft of some outdoor lights, fourth because when I’m doing Christmas shopping I always find new things that fit the theme…Also, my husband had several ornaments he’d ordered to surprise me with. One of which was the present from him that I opened at the annual giant holiday party with friends. It’s definitely in keeping with the Vegas theme of this year’s tree. Before the party, he had expressed some anxiety about the present. I interpreted it that he wasn’t sure he had grabbed the right box (since once they’re wrapped you sometimes forget which thing is in which box). Then after the party, and after we’d cleaned up the hotel room and returned home, he asked if I wanted to open another present. Because the present at the party had been the glitter-festooned Las Vegas sign, I thought he was hinting that another present under the tree was another ornament, and I might want it up on the tree for a few days before Christmas. It turned out he was worried that I would think, somehow, that the ornament wasn’t much of a gift. Which is silly. First, any gift that’s sincerely given is wonderful. That’s the whole point. But the bigger issue, for me, is my hubby giving me an ornament. Our first Christmas living together, I was trying to plot out what to do with the tree theme. It was the second Christmas after the death of my first husband, Ray. Ray had loved Christmas even more than me, which is saying quite a lot. And he had chosen a color scheme for the next Christmas, which I hadn’t used (since I barely did any decorating the first year after he died), but he’d only gotten so far as picking colors and buying some ornaments in those colors at the previous year’s after-Christmas sales. So I had colors, and some ornaments, but I was having trouble figuring out what to do with them. Whenever I brought it up to Michael, he barely replied. I wasn’t completely sure why. I eventually confessed that his lack of response was stressing me out a bit. It turned out that given his previous experiences with Christmas—him being a gay pagan growing up in rural Oklahoma surrounded by bible-thumpers—whenever I mentioned Christmas decoration, he had visions of manger scenes and angels and little baby Jesus’ everywhere. Which made him feel uncomfortable, to say the least. Whereas, the entire reason I was trying to get some opinions out of him was because it was his home, too, and I didn’t want to make him live with stuff he didn’t like.
Somehow, despite all the conversations we’d had about my own bad experiences being rejected by the church family I’d grown up with, and my love of science and so forth, it hadn’t quite sunk in with him that when I said “Christmas” I merely meant bright lights and ho-ho-ho and jingle bells.
So our first Christmas tree together was a Solstice tree in burgundy and silver. A color combination that we used to portray a slightly non-traditional night sky to commemorate the longest night in the year. He transformed from an unenthusiastic non-participant to a silver-spraypaint and hot-glue gun wielding fiend. He made scores of silver moon and star ornaments to hang on the tree. He help me make an enormous silver crescent moon to hang on the wall. We were finding moon and star decorations.
And even though he has been a very active participant in all of the years since (coming up with some of the best themes—Christmas From the Future!, Gaslight/Steampunk Christmas, the Sun Will Come Back, My Little Pony—I still remember that initial reluctance. And I recognize that I can get more than a little crazy about the decorating. It can’t be easy living with me when I’m in the middle of stressing out because the lights don’t look right and I’ve unwound and rewound the strings on the tree three times, now!So any contributions he makes I take as an extra special gift. He’s enabling my wild, irrational impulses. He’s putting up with me transforming the house into a tacky, light-invested merry extravaganza.
So I love the glittery Vegas ornament. It’s perfect!
I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.