Commentary: Hanging of the pipecleaner wreathes & clothes-pin ornaments
By William Carter, Columnist
The un-oiled spring groans/moans/squeals and I am bathed in a portentous current of cold air and the musty perfume of dust and bare wood and old books spilling from the dark rectangle above me. I reach up, straining, with my right hand and grab the bottom step of the rickety, wooden ladder and pull and it unfolds like some giant, tired insect.
Then I step back and complete my going-in-the-attic ritual by grumbling a bit and muttering to myself about the injustice of how I, for some reason, am the only one in the family charged with the task of retrieving then re-storing all those boxes of tangled lights and spangled garland and bedraggled Santa hats.
I flip the switch on the wall beside me and marvel a moment that no matter the wattage of the bulb I install up there, the light remains the same; a yellowish-orange that is no antidote to shadow…warm and inviting at one glance, then at the next glance…not so much.
Then I climb and pull myself through the opening and, hunched over, confront a wall of cardboard boxes; each labeled with a scribbled description of what’s inside. There are a lot of them and, grumbling, I wrestle each one down that death-trap of a ladder then ascend again to retrieve the next, fantasizing all the while about what a great lesson it would be for my family to have to spend Christmas Day weeping around a hospital bed as I moan from deep within my full-body cast.
All the boxes are down but the most important one, and I climb back up to get it but it’s not there so down again I go to check, but that small, unlabeled box - only one foot square - hasn’t mysteriously appeared, and I panic a bit, almost sick at the thought it may be gone; thrown away with last year’s seasonal debris.
A frantic search of the attic turns up nothing and, tired, I sit cross-legged on the bare plywood floor and lean back against a support post and try to figure out what to tell Love-Weasel. The soft thrum of rain on the roof only inches above my head lulls me a bit and I day-dream that maybe staying in the attic forever might not be a bad thing.
Blue cigarette smoke curls over my shoulder and I can smell it and then I hear a creak from the old chair in shadows to my left.
I know who’s there.
“Hey, old man”, I tell him.
From the corner of my eye I see the legs of the faded jeans and the cowboy boots he was buried in twenty-five years ago. He’s in his old recliner…the one me and my many sisters used to dare each other to sit in when he wasn’t around.
“What are you doing up here?” he asks.
“Looking for stuff we can’t have Christmas without,” I tell him. “And I can’t find it and
I guess you’re here to tell me that Christmas doesn’t come in boxes and that it’s all about what’s in your heart and blah, blah, blah”.
He laughs and takes a drag off his cigarette, then exhales.
“No”, he says, “I just like sittin’ in this old chair every once in awhile”.
The thrum of rain turns into the clatter of sleet and beneath that clatter I hear a rustle and a “thunk” over by the chair and I go and look and wedged between the chair and the outside wall is the box I’d been looking for.
In the living room, Love-Weasel opens the box and takes out a faded-green, construction-paper Christmas tree – dated 1992 - with a wallet-sized photo of a gap-toothed, six-year-old boy pasted to it. She smiles and smoothes it and murmurs and then hangs it on the tree then takes another ornament adorned with a picture of a different boy and hangs that one, too. These are followed by scribbled pictures of Santa with cotton-ball beards, reindeer made from clothes pins, pipe-cleaner wreaths, paper snowflakes, glittered ribbons.
Love-Weasel knows each ornament by heart and which one of her babies made it.
She’s still smiling when the box is empty.
“Its official”, she says. “It’s Christmas”.
Before I shut the attic door, I climb up and look around.
“Merry Christmas, old man,” I say to the chair in the shadows.
Maybe I heard someone laugh; and maybe I heard the sound of cowboy boots on bare plywood floors fading away at the other end of the attic.
Maybe I heard someone say “Merry Christmas, kid”.
Merry Christmas, y’all.
Merry Christmas from me and Love-Weasel and Tall-Boy and Miss Vickie and Big-D and Bear-Dog and Jack and Pearl and Ella.
William Carter is a longtime Franklin city employee and published author.
Posted on: 12/21/2013