Our elderly neighbors across the street are moving to assisted living. In the past year, they have endured a series of health problems, so it was the logical next step. I think they’ve lived in this neighborhood since it was built — at least 30 something years.
When I came home this past Thanksgiving, I noticed that their house was up for sale. Little by little, they have been placing boxes, and furniture and random items on the lawn for trash pick-up. My mom has been collecting some of the stuff they have been giving her (like a perfect 1960s era vintage desk with gilded edges). Most recently, she acquired a box of Christmas decorations.
I discovered this one of these boxes today–filled with pristine 1960s-1980s ornaments, bells, lights, music boxes, dolls–each item meticulously cared for and in its original packaging, most with the original price tags still intact. I sifted through the box–every year they had collected an ornament from Hallmark. I don’t know there were other boxes with other ornaments, or if this was the only one, but this box contained ornaments that start at 1977, and then, inexplicably stop at 1987.
What must it have been like for them, in younger years, collecting these ornaments year by year. I imagined these ornaments dangling on 30 years of Christmas trees, with family gathered around, lights making presents sparkle, children laughing, cookies baking. All those Christmases, all that life–now just a boxful of memories sitting in wilted box on the sidewalk, discarded.
Even though I never really knew my neighbors the way my parents did, it still makes me sad to think of them living somewhere other than across the street. It makes me sad to think they are probably going through all their things, remembering all the times they had, then understanding that they can’t take it with them. Once they move to the retirement home, i know I’ll never hear from them again. They will have all but disappeared. New people, younger people, will move in across the street. The house will fill with laughter and children and people, but they won’t know anything about the people who lived there before them. It won’t even matter.
This past weekend, when my friends came to town, they purchased several ornaments as gifts, as well as some for themselves. Christmas tradition. I think every year, they buy a new ornament for each person in their growing family. NG and I do something similar–we collect an ornament from every place we travel as a souveneir, and also a way to build up our ornament collection for the life we are starting to lead together. This year, we only had enough ornaments for a very tiny Charlie Brown tree.
We picked the tree out together at Clancy’s Christmas tree lot on Laguna Honda. It was so tiny and pathetic that the old salt Christmas tree guy joked about helping us carry it to the car. Christmas tree guy looked like he had seen some rough times–his hands were rough and weathered and his long scraggly white beard was dingy and unkempt. His voice sounded like he smoked at least 2 packs a day, and ate a side of cut glass. Typical of old hard-working guys like that, he was truly gentle soul. He followed us around the lot as we made our decision, and talked to us about all the trees, told us about his daughter, etc. People like that are truly hard to come by these days.
After selecting our tree, NG& and I drove to Big Lots and found some cheap decorations. Because our tree was so tiny and sparse, we needed miniature garland, miniature star, and miniature light–surprisingly, we found them all.
At night, we came home, made hot cocoa, turned on some Holiday music, and decorated the tree (with our cats, of course). We put a red ball at the top of the tree, and, just like the charlie brown christmas tree, it wilted.
Our neighbors were probably like us once. When they moved into their new house, when this neighborhood was new, they must have felt the way I do with NG–like we are at the beginning. That next year there will be a new ornament on the tree to mark another year together, and& another chapter in our lives. The tree will grow bigger and bigger, as will the collection of ornaments to fill out the tree.
And then, like our neighbors, we’ll just all of a sudden stop collecting ornaments. And then we’ll stop putting up a tree. And then next thing you know, fragments of our life will be stuffed in a box, waiting for the garbage men to pick& up on a Thursday afternoon.