Does anyone make their own ornaments anymore? I know crafty people make them and sell them, like the one above that some dear friends gave us a couple of years ago. But one of my favorite childhood memories is making ornaments. My parents still have them and every year when we put them on the tree we talk about their history. Especially my mom.
When I was born, my mom had already been friends for over 15 years with a woman named May Miller. They met in post-war Washington DC, where both were involved in writer’s workshops and painting groups. My mom continued to write as she married, traveled abroad to my father’s Foreign Service assignments, had 3 kids, and finally returned to the DC area in the 1960s. They picked up their friendship as if they had never been apart. I grew up with May as another aunt. I remember her apartment in Dupont Circle and her Siamese cat named Tikal. (“Don’t get too close. She bites.”) I remember her as elegant and dignified, and it never occurred to me at the time that she could not go out to lunch with my mother when they first met because May was Black and my mother is white. When I was a child this would have struck me as very, very odd.
I mean, May was famous! She had books of poetry published, she had articles written about her. Her father, Kelly Miller, was a Dean at Howard University, and she grew up mingling with the likes of W.E.B Du Bois. Also, she taught us how to make Christmas ornaments with styrofoam balls, ribbon, sequins, and glue. Somehow ours never looked as delicate or as regal as hers did, but she exclaimed over the beauty of each one. I remember every year going with my mother to visit May and her husband at their apartment, and I remember that every year she displayed a beautiful wood carved crèche, picked up on one of her exotic trips overseas.
May Miller died in 1995, having lived a long and interesting life. My own mother, now 90 years old herself, doesn’t write poems anymore. She has mild dementia and has trouble with that kind of word retrieval. But I know that this weekend when I go to visit her, we will pull out the ornaments and she will say, “Remember when we made those ornaments with May …”
What’s your childhood memory this time of year?