The Music Box

The boxes are finally coming down out of the attic. I’ve been dragging my feet about putting up some Christmas decorations this year. Although the boxes are marked with a broad-tipped black magic marker, I’ve enough experience to know there is no guarantee that the words on the outside match up to the contents on the inside.

This one says “Greenery.” It’s light weight. I peek under the folded top and sure enough, there’s green plastic needles on the inside.

Here’s one that says “Wreath.” Even without the bold print, there’s no doubt about this one. The box is a little too short and the top of the wreath is poking out above the unfolded box lid.

The box labeled “Lights” feels like it’s got an anvil inside it. We don’t use this many lights but, evidently, we can’t bring ourselves to throw away anything. White and green and red and blue and one strand of old-timey big bulbs that includes yellow and orange.

Every box has to be dug out of its resting place in the attic and brought over to the opening by the attic stairs. There they wait patiently to be handed down or to be toted down one by one.

The phrase “Mantle Pieces” is written in Beth’s penmanship. Round schoolteacher letters that look like they were inscribed on lined Blue Horse notebook paper. She never could just scribble. Each fragile, snow-covered church and house is encased in paper towel padding.

There’s one box that just says “Decorations.” No kidding.

This is the catch-all-kitchen-drawer of the Christmas box world. If it’s not greenery or lights or a snow-covered ceramic church, I guess this is where it goes. Bells. Ribbon. Little stars to hang on the tree. A Santa. A reindeer missing one side of his antlers. And a sizeable, mismatched collection of crumpled up red bows.

I have no idea how much of this stuff I will use. Ever since the kids grew up and left home, the motivation for all-out-decorating for Christmas has faded little by little. We used to go all out. Lights inside and out. Garland everywhere. A tree in the house and one in the yard. Nick-nacks on every flat surface.

I got into the spirit a couple weeks ago and put out a bowl full of red and green M&Ms on the kitchen counter. I seriously thought about letting that be it. Edible, refillable decorations make perfect sense to me.

When I was about 13, Mom and Dad really got into the spirit of the decorating season. We had these huge paper cut outs of Santa, his sleigh and 8 tiny reindeer. There were images of huge boxes wrapped like presents. 4-foot-tall candles. And a manger scene, complete with a donkey and a lamb, and a star from the east.

Dad and I spent hours out in the back yard making plywood cut-outs so that each character of Christmas could be glued to the plywood. ¾” thick. Santa’s sleigh weighed a ton. We staked each piece in place. Flood lights on miles of extension cords made our front yard look like a landing zone for the Atlanta airport.

It was perhaps the merriest year of them all.

I remember the deflated feeling when we went to visit my folks for Christmas many years later. They were by themselves at home for the holidays. I think we just had Laura at the time. One small child. The only Christmas decoration was the tired old tree. No plastic candles in the windows. No Santa in the front yard. No Christmas cards tapped to the walls. No wreath. No strings of lights on the front porch.

We pulled into the driveway and the house looked like it would on any other drab and cold winter’s night, except for a few twinkling lights that could be seen through the curtains in the living room window. It felt like Christmas had been forgotten.

I love this season of the year. I understand what the Christmas cheer is all about. But I just can’t bring myself to go all out like we used to. The aging spirit of my parents is upon me. Christmas is all about the kids and mine are mostly doing their own thing these days, as they should be.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Grinch.

Marshall and I have gone through the most interesting boxes. The mantle is set up with lights and garland and a few of the best snow-covered churches. The Nativity holds the center spot.

The tree is up with lights and ornaments and ribbons, with the angel on top. There’s even a little greenery on top of the kitchen island. I’ll probably light a few candles and play endless Christmas music over the next few weeks.

This is not going to be a “Bah Humbug” kind of year. The kids and grandkids will all be here for a little while on the eve of Christmas day.

Yet, as good as that may be. As much as I enjoy the spirit of Christmas, there will still be fewer lights this year. Fewer decorations. Some of the boxes will go back in the attic.

I found one box marked “fragile.” Inside, a music box. It belonged to Beth. It’s not really a music “box.” It’s more of a small scene set on top of a pedestal. When you wind up the base, the whole thing spins as the music plays.

If I have it right, she got it from her mama for her first Christmas away at college. The figurines are a little boy Joseph and a little girl Mary kneeling beside the baby Jesus in a bed of straw. Mary looks a little like Little Bo Peep who lost her sheep.

I tried to wind it up, but it doesn’t play anymore. I wish I could remember the song. Maybe “What Child Is This.” It might have been “Away in a Manger.” It was the only decoration she owned when we celebrated our first Christmas together in 1978.

We lived in a one bedroom apartment over the top of a local convenience store. The beer cooler below was directly under our little 5×5 foot kitchen. The heavy cooler door shook our floor every time someone went in or out for a cold one.

We were just six months out of college. Every stick of furniture we owned was something given to us. But it was our place. Our sad little Christmas tree. And her music box on the lamp table. We would turn off the lamp and sit in the glow of the lights on the tree, and she would wind up Mary and Joseph.

I’m such an idiot that I can’t remember what song it played.

So, maybe I’m not in the mood to go all-out decorating. So, maybe there’s only a few lights in one room. Maybe I haven’t eaten at the kitchen table for three days because it’s covered with boxes out of the attic.

But it’s worth it. Because, in the end, it’s such an incredibly wonderful time of year. Maybe even magical.

Need proof?

Her music box found me.