Last week we put our Christmas tree up. Every year when we decorate the tree, my family takes the time to find their favorite ornaments and reminisce about each one. All of our ornaments are special and tell a story. We have ornaments from our vacations, ornaments that belonged to me as a child, some from the first year we were married and many, many for each child and the interests in their lives. Each Christmas, we get to relive those good times and happy memories.

A week before our tree went up, my daughters and I went to my grandmother’s house to help her put her tree up. It is a job that my parents usually fill, but this year, I told them we would like to help. My grandmother, or Granny, as the kids call her, sat on a chair near the boxes and handed things out to us. She had very specific places for everything to go – including the ornaments on the tree. As we decorated the tree, Granny often made my daughters move the ornaments to a better spot or to space them out differently.

“Honey that ornament goes near the top” Granny told them. When they moved it, she would often correct them again. “No, move it a little more to the right.”

Halfway through the tree decorating I held up an ornament that my sister and I made for my grandparents when we were kids.

“I remember these,” I said as I held the ornament up for my mom to see it. My mom nodded in agreement and we tried to remember how old they were.  At the same time, one of my daughters picked up the matching ornament. Granny saw it and told my daughter that her kids – my mother and my uncle – made the ornaments years ago. She told my daughter to put them in a special spot on the front of the tree.

My mother corrected her. “Mom, Mike and I didn’t make those ornaments. The girls made those for you.” Granny looked at her daughter as if she was trying to remember before she spoke.

“No, it wasn’t the girls. You and Mike made those and I always hang them in the front of the tree.”  When I verified my mom’s story, Granny just looked at us and then went back to the boxes without another word.

I felt sorry for my grandmother for a minute. At 42, I remember the story that goes with every ornament on our tree – who made it, who it belongs to and approximately how long we have had it. After 91 Christmases, Granny’s memory was starting to get fuzzy.

The one of my biggest fears of aging is losing my memories. I worried that it was beginning to happen to Granny before our eyes. After a couple of minutes of watching her direct the placement of the ornaments, I realized that my grandmother was not losing her memories; she was just forgetting the details. That afternoon, we learned that “Who, When and Where” were not as important as we aged. It is the “What” that is most vital in the winter of our lives.

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