“A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasures inside is hid.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

“Here you are,” I say out loud, as though they can hear me.

I imagine I can hear them say, “He’s found us at last, just when we thought we had been forgotten.”

Is this first stage dementia? Maybe, small inanimate objects speak to me, like boxes, coffee cups, dog water bowls. It’s been this way ever since I slipped on the wet marble floor of St. Mary and Joseph Church as I was helping serve Christmas communion. The paten went flying, the body and blood of Jesus scattered across the altar cloths. They say my mother ran from the church. I was never her favorite son. Jug was.

These are the things of Christmas past, dragged from New York to LA to the snowy bushes of Maine where Christmas really lives. They are neatly packed in cardboard boxes that were originally from egg crates, L.L. Bean blanket boxes, towels or old silver.

They truly are magic, opening and closing year after year like Dorothy Gale’s door from the black and white of all of our Kansas lives, to reveal the magic and the color of Christmas. “He’s found us,” they shout, as the room fills with colored light.

She, who is upstairs on her laptop engaged in Cyber Monday sales, shouts down, “Who are you talking to?”

I pretend never to hear her. Trust me. I’m in no mood to get committed, so she can take my lottery money and date a pool boy in Trinidad.

I open my box, a special, big, plastic box I bought to protect its special contents, its treasure. It’s where I keep the ornaments, the never ending collection of baubles of glass and silver, porcelain and wood.

They’re for the big tree in the main room, the one we all call the “living room,” because, of course, that’s where the game of living is played, where tears, if they are to be shed, are shed, where the laughter is loudest, where the framed pictures are kept, the collection of clocks and stacks of books.

The kitchen smells better with its perfume of garlic and onions and spilled wine. But the living room is where The Tree is, and that’s where my treasure goes.

This is, after all, the easy part, the fun part. A month from now I’ll be singing a different tune, the one where I cry and listen to someone on CNN sing that Auld Lang Syne thing.

But now is the fun time when I alone am in charge of decorating this fake tree. I know, I know, it lacks the smell of Christmas, but true and faithful readers of this column will remember the Christmas of 1938, when my father wanted to have little tiny candles on our tree. He had them as a child and wanted them again.

They came with tiny silver holders that clipped on the branches. So my mother relented, but made Jug stand by with a bucket of water. We all watched Pop light each tiny candle. And wouldn’t you know, Jug ran off and left the bucket. Yes, the tree caught fire, and Pop had to push it out through the living room onto the porch. Thanks to the snow, the fire did not burn down the porch. True story.

So here they are: the black and white harlequin, the little drummer boy with real drum, the golden retriever perched in a tiny L.L. Bean snow boot.

This one is not my favorite, but the kids loved it and so it stays. It’s a small, stuffed Pinocchio. It’s cute but carries a burden. The night of my father’s wake when I found myself lost in a forest of woolen legs all smelling of smoke and Irish whiskey, my sister gave me a quarter and sent me down to the local movie theater. They were showing “Pinocchio,” the story of a little boy who gets lost from his father. That was my Los Angeles shrink’s favorite story.

Dr. Frank consoled me by reminding me that I was not wooden.

It’s up now, all the ornaments on, even the torn Dixie cup that used to have paper wings. It was a paper angel my youngest made in kindergarten. The wings got lost years ago but I stick it up there. Some guest invariably remarks, “Oh how cute, a little Dixie cup.” I go along with the laughter, only to return when all have gone to bed and whisper, “She didn’t mean it, she’s drinks too much.”

The worn, faded, little cup replies, “Next year, could you make me some wings?”

“Who are you talking to?” The inevitable shout comes down.

I don’t answer. She’s not going to Trinidad with my lottery money.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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