by Ellen Hill
I grew up in Boston, where snow and the holidays were always synonymous. The first snow was always exciting: how little, how much, no one seemed to be able to predict. It could hit hard in mid-afternoon, and if you were lucky, school closed, buses stopped to chain up, and you secretly wished you had worn all the bulky horrible things your mother made you wear last winter. Within days, the snow would become black with city dirt, or worse yet, melt and refreeze into sidewalks of sheet ice.
Yet in those first hours how lovely it was. Each flake unique as it slid lazily down the warm glass of the window into oblivion, and a new one taking its place. The air was icy and a Christmas tree could stay outside on the porch for days – its powerful scent casting a Christmas spell around the yard. Once inside, it filled the house. First came the lights, and then the ornaments, and last, the angel. How beautiful she was! Soft gossamer wings, golden hair surrounding a sweet face: everything my Victorian grandmother thought an angel should be. I keep the angel in a box now, wrapped in tissue, too old to top any tree. Each Christmas she fades a little more yet still evoking all those Christmases where she shown so brightly in the center of out family.
That gorgeous, radiant angel of memory is made of paper and prickly, shedding spun glass. It probably came from a five-and-dime, and certainly wasn’t a major expense for whoever bought it. Memory can invoke beauty, as well as enhance it. I keep the angel now for both the memory of the past, and a realization of how time alters and enriches. Not a fine porcelain face my adult self might desire, but a poor cardboard one made beautiful by love.
We choose our memories, good and bad, and the best seem to come complete with color, sound, and scent. Driven by these images, we work all the harder to achieve those perfect memories for our children. Yet, individual as a snowflake, each child will pick their own memories, their own traditions and even their own past. As hard as we may work during the holidays, it is reassuring to reflect that our children will probably remember us, like the little cardboard angel, a good deal better and more radiant than we see ourselves.
Ellen Hill is a longtime member of St. Paul's.