Tuesday, February 06, 2007


File under "heirlooms, one:"

This weekend, I inadvertently celebrated Candlemas in a very traditional way. Due to the sheer arduousness of recent weeks, I had left a few Christmas decorations here and there, especially my small collection of reindeer decorations: among which, a beautifully painted hobby-horse style toy that sits on the mantle, and a silver candelabra in whose antlers tea lights may be placed. The most precious is pictured below, the the photo does not do it justice, and as soon as I can find and scan in a better photo, this sentence and the current image will disappear.

This "electric candelabra," which is made of, it seems, wrought iron with plastic candles, is, I realized, my true and only family heirloom. Worth little economically as far as I can tell, these little reindeer pre-existed me and were part of our family's Christmas throughout my childhood. They are the bearers of a love story: on their first Christmas as a married couple, 1960, my parents, not yet my parents, my mother, thirty two and father , forty three, having met , fallen in love and married after prior and separately enduring divorces, were walking down Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn when they saw these reindeer in a shop window. They took it back to their apartment on Clinton Avenue, and it was lovingly assembled and lit every Christmas season thenceforth, with the story of its origin repeated with every unpacking. Looking closely, you will see that time has made its mark on this set: the plastic "halos" are dulled and slightly scratched; one Christmas, the middle deer lost its antlers, and in spite of my father's efforts to restore them, became a doe instead. Of late, the sleigh runner has fallen off each Christmas, and super glue seems to hold it for the season only. When my parents retired and moved to another house, I returned one Christmas and did not see the reindeer. In the new house, its traditional place on the harvest table not easily replicated by the new dining room table, it had remained packed in the box. I remember mentioning several times that I missed the reindeer, and my parents offered to send it to me by post when I returned home. A few weeks after I flew home, a box arrived in the mail: the reindeer in their original packing box, with a note from my father retelling the story of that Christmas Eve on Myrtle Avenue. I never saw my father again after that Christmas: he died in September of that same year, and so when I take out the reindeer every year, and unfold the note, now preserved in archival sheeting, but still tucked in the box, there is a moment of such poignancy, of stillness, a sacred (if I may) connection between my mental image of my young parents in Brooklyn and the onward rush of lives and years. Childless, I ponder the fate of my heirloom as I unwrap, then later disassemble the deer from the base, and rewrap in fresh newspaper, this object most precious to wait another year.

This year, this weekend, the rewrapping of the reindeer took place on Candlemas, though only later was I reminded of the old saying that Christmas decorations not put away by Epiphany should wait until Candlemas. Candlemas is the traditional day for the church's blessing of the candles to be used later in the liturgical year, so it seemed right all around that that my private ritual had accidently taken place on that day. This weekend, I also realized with much misgiving that the original box (pictured below) will not last many more years. The box, also part of the story, the ritual, the beautiful glowing reindeer made in Saint Joseph, MO --anexotic place to my New Yorker parents--- to Brooklyn, is crumbling, more packing tape than box. Everything else except the bulbs, is original, made to last: the wiring with its two-prong plug, the little cardboard pieces that keep the halos around the candles. The box will be gone in a few years, and I will have to pack the reindeer, my father's note, and the year's Christmas cards in a new container, and the wiring may go, too (so far so good, and that can be redone). I will probably not have children at this point, though in my dreams and in my body, it is still possible. I have niece, and many years from now, the reindeer may go to her, but for now, and I hope many seasons, the two bucks, a doe and a sleigh, four wobbly electric candles, rest on their iron stand and mean the world to me.

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