Ruth Bass: Ornaments are much more than mere trim

Monday December 17, 2012


Our Christmas tree would appall Martha Stewart. She coordinates , mixing and matching colors that make the eye sing, if an eye be able to sing. She cherishes themes, and displays of her products have chromatic harmony. At our house, tradition rules.

Our tree is a mish-mash of colors. Nothing matches anything else. Even the lights lack togetherness, ranging from small white snowballs to strings of lighted Santas and snowmen.

Brilliant Led lights are mixed with survivors from another era, and the stringing of them is at best erratic.

The designer heart of Martha Stewart would indeed quicken to a dangerous pace if she were to drop in once the ornaments start to go on. Since we have no fear of that, although we'd welcome her if she popped by, we go on in our happy ignorance of a tree with a theme.

Ours is more a setting for stories. Every year we hang the one surviving glass ball from my mother's tree. It's way up high so no one will inadvertently knock it off and reduce certain of us to eye-mopping.

The wood-carved buffalo goes on, bringing a memory of a bus tour at Yellowstone, the bison beasts in a meadow with wisps of diminutive Old Faithfuls rising behind them. Our bus driver said to stay behind the fence - these solemn creatures are dangerous. So we watched the occupants of another bus stride into the field, cameras at the ready. And then we left.


A gray felt elephant goes back to Amy's kindergarten days when Miss Kathy made an ornament for everyone in the class. Also in felt are the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow, several inches tall and needing space. They were found at a Berkshire bazaar by a former neighbor, someone we wish had never moved away.

The eggs are a big deal. Two, beautifully painted and sold for pennies in an egg box, were bought in Hungary on a trip that took us behind the Iron Curtain to a land of chicken paprikash, performing cowboys and an independent spirit that prevailed through terrible times.

It was in Budapest that the guide said we couldn't go to the museum because it was in lock down. Someone had stolen some great paintings. We didn't try to explain about shutting the barn door after the horse was gone. The other egg goes back to one of the offspring's first grade days, used as the head for a Christmas elf.

It is funny looking and a miracle in terms of survival. Its companion bit the dust a long time ago. A small lacy angel says "Aloha," making us smile at thoughts of fresh orchids draped around our necks, an evening looking at stars from the darkest of mountain summits and a pre-dawn trip to Haleakala to see the sun rise.

And we walked on hot earth, knowing the volcano above was the source. The ceramic potato points to days in Idaho where we gazed across 3,000 acres of potato vines, visited a mountain village where Confederate flags flew from more than one house and met the California condor that one day would restore the giant bird to the Grand Canyon.

The Bermuda onion, carved in a lovely grained wood, is bittersweet. There for a travel writers' convention, we learned that the waterless island requires collection of rainfall on the signature limestone roofs and storage in cisterns under the houses.

But on a catamaran one day, our good time shattered when the captain received word that a plane had flown into the side of the World Trade Center.

It was September 11, 2001, and we were suddenly stranded for six days in what should have been paradise.

We just wanted to get home.

There are eight million stories in the naked city, a long-ago TV show claimed. Dozens hang on our Christmas tree, in marvelous disarray.

Ruth Bass celebrates holidays in Richmond. Her web site is _www.ruthbass.com_ (


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