Navigating the Sandwich
Breaking My Family Holiday Traditions
I was tired of unboxing my mother's silly ornaments. Would I have regrets on Christmas morning?
My mother bequeathed her collection of Department 56’s Dickens Village to me. Five bins full of charming ceramic structures modeled in a storybook style, with an emphasis on cute and cozy — saggy roofs, half-timbered upper stories, windows that glowed a warm welcoming glow from the 5-watt bulb stuck inside. She had displayed it every Christmas — under the tree at first, then as the population grew and urban sprawl arrived in the form of several country cottages, it had to be relocated to her front bay window.
But as she got older and frailer and couldn’t manage it, I had volunteered to step in and do the staging for her. I’d drag the bins from the spidery crawl space, haul them up the stairs, replace light bulbs, repair chipped chimneys, locate all the cast (the Lady with the Muff had gone missing, as did one of the village policemen — perhaps an affair?).
My mother would not be satisfied until every piece, every building, every figure had been arranged.
My father hated it. To him it was clutter. It took up too much space. It competed with her Nativity tableau on the coffee table. She had insisted. For her, when house lights dimmed and the only glow came from inside the tiny ceramic Dickens’ windows, it was magical.
For me, it was too much work. And now it was mine.
The first Christmas without my mother, I put it up as a tribute to her. It got rave reviews from the family, making the hassle of hauling, unpacking, placement, blocking the large cast, all worth it.
The second year I leaned in hard, upping the production value by carving hills out of Styrofoam, adding levels to separate the thatched roofed country houses from those in London (it just made more sense!). I made cobblestone streets — cutting each cobble out of sheets of something I found at a hobby shop — bought battery operated lights because I had always hated the tangle of cords and bulky bulbs.
No one noticed the improvements. No one mentioned anything about the improved lighting.
I scaled back a bit the next year, using only the London cast and requisite set pieces. The country houses and people were not germane to the plot.
Year four it was more of a bare-bones production. Scrooge. The Counting House. Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Tiny Tim, a few other street urchins. Carolers. I had expected complaints. I had expected family members to notice their favorites hadn’t been brought out. Nothing had been said. Had we moved on?
Perhaps we didn’t need it in order to remember my mother?
This year, it will stay in the bins. In the crawl space. I’ll have enough to do. Baking. Cleaning. Cooking. Stocking the larder. Driving out to the countryside with my husband to cut down a tree that was perfectly happy standing in a farmer’s field, then dragging it inside, putting bolts in its trunk, stringing lights, hanging ornaments on the branches. But I know there will be that moment, after all the gifts have been opened, all the cookies eaten, everyone back where they belong — my father at his apartment, the kids miles away, and I’ll be sitting there, perhaps with a hot toddy, a dog, (possibly two?) curled up on my slippered feet, basking in the warm glow, wishing I had dragged out the Dickens Village.
This is the fifth installment in a series Mel Miskimen is writing for TheCovey about the drafty empty nest she shares with her husband, who is on the fast track to sainthood. Miskimen is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and author of Sit Stay Heal. Her previous articles for Covey include installment Dreams from Her Mother, No Guns for Old Men, Call Me. Maybe, and Divide and Conquer?