Pam and I spent Thanksgiving week and the week following with the folks. While we were doing some holiday decorating, we started talking about holidays past and Mom said I could finally have it.
I have described this ornament several times. Here is the full story.
When I was a boy, before we moved away from the San Francisco Bay Area, we spent the weekend after Thanksgiving and most December weekends at my grandmother's house.
I have so many incredible memories from those years. Whether she got a real tree or an artificial one...and she would do either depending on her holiday mood, and enjoy both...she decorated it exactly the same way. She had a blueprint in her head of how the lights should go, and where every ornament should hang, and which side should face the street to be seen through the living room window.
And she would decorate her tree by laying it on the floor. See, she was about four and a half feet tall. It was easier for her to lay the tree down, get it perfect, then hoist it up on the table in front of the window. When my sister and I were old enough, our job was to hand her the ornaments in the order she called for them, from the boxes she had carefully laid out on the sofa.
Except for one ornament.
The special job, the most sacred honor, was the hanging of the little plastic ornament with the pinwheel thingy. It had to go on the exact branch in the exact spot, not only because that was Gram's blueprint, but so it could catch the breeze from the heater vent and spin.
I loved to sit and watch that ornament. I'm told it caught my eye when I was a toddler. I'm told I would stand or sit for hours watching it. My little hand would reach for it at first, catching the admonition to look but don't touch.
When the heater vent stopped, I would reach my hand out to make it spin again. I would be told again not to touch, and then Mom or Gram would come and blow on it. I'm told I took such delight that I learned how to blow on the ornament and make it spin.
I never got to touch that ornament, and it became so special to me. It became the last ornament to go on the tree, and was not hung while the tree lay on the floor. Gram made a special show of hanging it. And I looked forward to it every year...never touching.
I finally got to hang that ornament when I was 8. I remember it clearly. The tree decorating ritual progressed as usual. When it was standing majestically on the table in front of the window, Gram brought out the ornament. She walked to the tree as I took my place where I could see it spinning for the first time. Gram motioned me over and said I was old enough now. She handed the ornament to me. She didn't need to point to the branch. I knew where it went.
The ornament felt so light in my hands. It was just simple plastic with a very light bit of aluminum inside. But it was so much more than that to me. Perhaps I'm projecting onto the memory. But I remember the fascination with that ornament so vividly. I remember Mom and Gram telling me not to touch. I remember it always being the last ornament to be hung on the tree.
It was special.
I remember I took the ornament from Gram and held it carefully by its hook, with my other hand beneath it in case it slipped. I dropped cups and utensils all the time, but there would be no dropping of this special bit of plastic.
I took it to the branch, shielding it from the heater vent that was already blowing warm air. I didn't want the ornament to start spinning until it was properly hung. I held the branch steady and placed the hook securely, then I let it go. I didn't move until I looked at Gram and she gave the nod that the ornament was in the right place.
Then I moved away from the vent into my spot so I could watch it start spinning.
I don't know what was my happiest holiday, but I do know that this is one of the happiest memories of my life.
Now, finally, the ornament is mine for my tree.