Gorging yourself on pulled pork and pierogies is expected when you visit a local arts fest. This, after I tried on 45 rings and my sweetie bought me a gorgeous handmade necklace. As we walked along, checking out booths full of stuff, I saw a bunch of Christmas ornaments. My sweetie asked a question. I didn’t answer. Instead, I just kept walking with a lump in my throat. I knew if I answered I would cry. So I just whispered something about not having my Christmas tree. I told him I was trying not to cry. So, we just walked while I let the moment of grief pass. For the last three years or so, I’ve had a lot of those moments. Odd moments that come at the oddest of times.
December of ’92: I lived in Omaha, Nebraska and my first baby girl was six-months old. It was time to go tree shopping. I’d grown up with a fake tree and had such warm and loving feelings about it. That tree was stored in a big-ass box and was a pain-in-the-ass to put together. It had wired branches that went into a long-battered wood pole. It had colored lights with night-light sized bulbs, glass ball ornaments, garland (not tinsel), and a nativity set. I used to stare at it for hours. That tree paired with “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV made me feel sheer joy as a kid. Even now, a decorated tree and Charlie Brown means warmth, safety, and love.
So 1992 was my year to recreate the same thing for my new family. My baby daughter and I got into our Ford Festiva with tires the size of donuts and headed into the wilderness of big-box stores to find our tree destiny. And there it was. Six feet of plastic beauty. Sixty-bucks later it was loaded into the Festiva: back seat down, rear gate of the car flipped open, rear-facing car seat illegally strapped into the front seat, and new mother convinced she’d go to “shitty mother” jail.
For 23 years that tree was my tree. It became the family tree because soon enough there were three kids and a dog. Year after year it stood. And it was always the same; white lights, gold garland, and ornaments. It stood, bearing all those ornaments; those Hallmark series ornaments purchased for each kid beginning with the year of their birth, the Barney ornament that moves, the naked Santa ornament from cousin Betty Jean, the leg lamp ornament that talks, and all the goofy school pics ornaments the kids made. The tree was a beauty.
Well, I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One year, after I got the lights on the tree, one of the strands went out. In frustration, I drove to the store to get a new strand. All they had left were LEDs. Onto the tree they went. The result was ridiculous, as you can see. The incandescents glowed yellow. The LEDs glowed blue. How unsightly! And it was on display out the front window! Did I give a shit? Well, obviously not. I thought Martha Stewart. Bite me. I had a leg lamp from the movie A Christmas Story in my front window the rest of the year. My front window was a freak show.
A few years after the lighting incident I got divorced for the second time. I was forced to downsize and sell the house I’d been living in with my kids for 11 years. For years after our split, my first husband and I worked together to make sure the kids never had to move. No such luck with husband number two. I don’t feel like wasting any breath on that turd, so instead I’ll chat about my stuff – that really isn’t just stuff.
I had to sell my house and move in a short period of time. I had to get rid of stuff in a frenzy. I am not a materialistic person, but some days I felt like I was dying. Getting rid of sixty-percent of my stuff felt like death. Perhaps I am sentimental? One day I sat in the garage sorting screws. And I was crying. Ex-husband #1 walked by carrying a box as he was helping me move and probably thought I was batshit crazy. I thought Oh my God. Will I need screws in a townhouse? I won’t have a garage, but will I need a screw at any point in my future?
Sure, I took loads of stuff to Goodwill. Multiple car loads of stuff. But there were certain things that meant something to me that I had to get rid of – like my kitchen table. Yes, the table my kids and I sat around year after year. It wouldn’t fit in the townhouse I was moving into, but there was no way in hell I was giving it to Goodwill so it could sit there with some garish price tag on it. So I decided to list a bunch of stuff on Craigslist under Free to see what happened. Now the table lives in Boalsburg. Ex-husband #1 and I delivered it to a young couple who needed it for a growing family.
Next, my house plants. My beloved house plants. Some of them came from funerals; my dad’s funeral, my former mother-in-law’s funeral. From my first day on-the-job in 1993 in Omaha. From here and there and everywhere. These plants had moved with me from Nebraska to Missouri to Pennsylvania. Two female friends came and loaded them into the back and front seats of their cars. They are still alive, I think. The plants – and the friends.
Artwork. I had Impressionism prints on my walls. For years, Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro brightened our space. One morning, a guy literally came and took them off my walls. He said he was opening some sort of business and would use them there.
Holiday decorations. Ouch. I loved decorating for the holidays and I had a big house. I was going to a very small townhouse and bins of stuff had to go. For example, lots of the stuff was for Halloween. I took pictures of my beloved ghouls and goblins, posted them online, and asked people to take them home. People were kind enough to tell me what they were going to do with them; my skeleton bride was going to grace a haunted hayride – or maybe she was going to a local neighborhood. Either way, she was going to a nice place.
Christmas. I don’t really remember many of the decorations I got rid of, except my tree. There was no place at the townhouse for a six-foot, fake tree. So she had to go. I saw visions of her standing all alone in the back lot at Goodwill. No fucking way. I would sob. No. Hell no. So her picture went online with the rest of the decorations. As far as I can remember, she went with someone who had a Christmas-themed business.
That time is still a daze for me. Even now, I don’t know where some of my stuff ended up. I just remembered I used to have a reindeer in a rocking chair that rocked and sang Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Where the hell is that? I still regret giving some of it away. At one point I drove a car-full of antiques to an antique mall and some sleazy guy gave me $60 for all of it. The wedding dress from wedding #2 was part of the deal. He told me the dress would end up at a flea market. I didn’t give a shit where it ended up.
About two years ago, I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC with one of my daughters. We walked into a room filled with Impressionism. Even though I’d seen it there before, seeing it again hit me hard; the Monet that was no longer in my life. I got tears in my eyes. The memory of what was.
I’ve had many odd moments since giving away my stuff. I missed that skeleton bride at Halloween. So, I found the exact one from the 1990s on eBay recently. It was odd to be so happy about finding her. This past Halloween she graced the living room of my boyfriend’s house. I think his kids named her Mrs. Bones.
My townhouse is absolutely lovely now. It’s home. I remodeled it after I moved in and my friend Sarah was nice enough to give me a few ceramic, lighted Christmas trees to replace my fake tree. And after that day at the arts festival, my boyfriend said we’d get a tree this year at his house. He and his girls picked out a real tree. That’s a first for me.
I sorted through the boxes of ornaments, lights and garland I managed to keep. Three years after the loss of my tree, my ornaments are back up. And so is that strand of blue-white lights. My boyfriend had ornaments and lights too, so we have a dual-family tree with lights of different sizes. I hung my craft show ornaments and he hung his shiny red balls. (Get your mind out of the gutter.)
When I am at my boyfriend’s house, I will sit in the living room and look at the tree, just like I did when I was a little girl. Just as I did when I was a new mom, just as I did when I had toddlers and teenagers. I still feel serene around a tree that I decorated. My nativity scene is set up too and the angel that’s been on top of my tree for decades is back on top. She’s just in a new place.
* This is just one story of loss due to divorce. If you are divorced you know the losses are many; friendships, family members, material items, plans for the future, companionship, love, and others. But over time, these losses can certainly turn into new paths of friendship, love, family and plans for the future. Believe it.