Sunday, January 22, 2012

Taking Down the Tree

Yesterday, I finally took down the Christmas tree, which is always a nostalgic activity. So many memories are wrapped in tissue- or newspaper and returned to boxes, now battered with age, marked Wooden Ornaments, Glass Birds, or Mercury Glass Pinecones. I see my mother’s magical eye everywhere, in the heaps of feathered red birds, now slightly scruffy looking, with beady eyes askew, or in the Scandinavian wooden trolls who stand in familial groupings around the kitchen, awaiting mummification in last week’s Union Democrat. Every Christmas from my earliest childhood until her death, she gave me wooden ornaments from Germany, and since her passing, I’ve inherited her own collection of holiday delights: yards of German tinsel ribbons two inches wide, striped red and green; Swedish tablecloths printed with rings of dancing children; a collection of tiny gold and cloissoné Chinese teapots.

And then there is the Dragon Egg, a huge dark green emu egg bonded with some kind of material into which my father could carve. Wrapped around the egg is the scaly body of a wide-eyed, ferocious dragon, his talons sunk deep into egg shell. Every Christmas I bring it out of its padded silk box and wonder what to do with it. It’s too heavy to hang on the tree and scarcely thematic, anyway. It seems to anticipate the month after Christmas, when the Chinese celebrate their New Year. But it’s a thing of such cunning craftsmanship and so redolent of my father’s powerful character, that I always make a place for it somewhere close to the tree.

Thus, my parents seem to be present with us, all through the holiday season and when it’s time to put things away for another year, I feel like I’m tucking them away, too, carefully swaddled in webs of memory in a battered box marked Loved Ones. Down the stairs go the packing-taped boxes and plastic storage cases, through the studio, through the library and into a big pantry off the laundry room. One after another I hoist them onto the highest shelf, where they will wait for another year, quiet and unobtrusive.

This time, though, as I was hefting a long flat box, its corner caught a bottle that had been stored on a lower shelf. With a terrible SMASH, it hit the tile floor and exploded! Instantly, a strange and wonderful smell pervaded the room. I knew immediately what it was: a bottle of El Tequileño Blanco tequila that I’d bought in the town of Tequila, in Jalisco state, on one of my adventures in Mexico. I was saving it until I could find a recipe for tequila lime chicken that approximated what I’d experienced in that shabby Mexican town surrounded by sensual hills and hills and hills of blue agave.

The smell of tequila wafted through the library, through the studio and up the stairs into the living room – a sweet, feral, slightly medicinal scent that stirs the blood. It expunged the shadows of nostalgia like a good solvent. In this season hanging between western and Chinese New Years, it was like the bottle of champagne that launches a ship, showering its wild blessings and sending me voyaging onward, away from what is past, into a bright and mysterious future. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Suzan, I adored this one. Taking down the Christmas tree has always been hard for me, I put it off as long as possible! A few years I have left it up until my birthday, January 13Th!!! It has come with a lot of criticism. However, I will never listen to the criticism again! After reading your beautiful story, it all makes sense....I didn't want to depart with the memories! Even though my ornaments did not come from afar, they are near and dear to me and each one has very special meaning. I remember who made them or where I got them from, each and every one. Now I understand, thank you so much for this very special story, it helped me to see why I am the way I am.....Fawn Robertson Shimer