The broken ornaments lay on the floor like scattered crumpled petals from a golden flower. Sharon stared at them in dismay, her heart beating like crazy after the loud crash, and knowing that soon her mother would come running to see what had happened.
It had been an accident--she would never have dropped the heavy box on purpose! She knew how much these ornaments meant to her mother—hadn’t the story of them been told every Christmas since she could remember?
Sure enough, the quick heavy pounding of her mother’s steps up the stairs announced her arrival, and Sharon couldn’t look, knowing by the quick gasp of dismay that her mother had already seen the mess.
“Oh Sharon! What happened?” Her mother was down on the floor, cradling the fragile broken ornaments as if afraid to break them further.
“I didn’t mean to! It slipped out of my hands,” Sharon whimpered, tears filling her eyes, awaiting the angry blast to come—having experienced it many times and never fully prepared for the anger her mother could summon at the drop of a hat—or box in this case.
But to her surprise and confusion, her mother just knelt there on the floor holding the broken class as if something precious had been lost, tears silently streaming down her flushed cheeks. It was almost worse than the anger she’d been expecting and she didn’t know what to do. She moved to pick up the box and start putting the broken pieces in, but her mother made a sharp motion with her head.
“Leave them. I’ll get it.”
Sharon bit her lip, unsure of what to do. They were supposed to be decorating the tree. Her father and the rest of the family were all down stairs, waiting for the ornaments. The music from the CD they were listening to could be heard faintly through the floor, and the voices of her sister and brother as they argued over something trivial.
There was nothing for it, she needed to get the next box.
She turned and climbed up the short run of stairs to the attic, feeling a dread in her heart that wouldn’t lighten—the picture of her mother kneeling on the floor in her worn polyester pants and plaid shirt, the old apron covering her plump chest and stomach, her gray hair gathered up in the typical clasp and her eyes, small and tired in her lined face—full of tears.
When had her mother gotten old?
She had always felt she was old, but at that moment, she looked old. Come to think of it, her father had begun to look old as well. She supposed that happened when your children began growing up and life was passing you by. Sharon was the youngest, but she was 15, and a tall gangly 15 at that. Her parents were probably in their late 50’s, and she hadn’t really given it any thought before. She also knew that this Christmas was going to be hard on everyone—dad had just been informed he was going to be laid off after New Years. It was cut backs and everything.
So, on top of everything else, her parents were worried about how to make ends meet. The ornaments probably seemed like the last straw, and Sharon felt the weight of it in her heart. The ornaments had been handed down from Grandma. She had made some of them, but most of them were just things that had been handed down from her mother. There were some made of spun glass, some that were just fragile store bought ones, a couple that had dates on them from almost 60 years ago. Her favorite had been the angel with the broken off halo. It didn’t matter if a couple of the ornaments were chipped or worn, Sharon knew that to her mother they were remnants of her family in the past.
As she picked up the last box left—the only box of ornaments they had now, she wondered if they were going to be able to enjoy it or the evening. The box in her hands was full of the hand made school stuff she and her siblings had created over the years. She had created a new one to add this year—one that she’d made in Art class in school. Her teacher said that she had real talent, and praised her highly for the object she’d created. She’d been waiting in anticipation for this very day for her mother to see it and think it was as special as the others she’d held precious. Now it would be overshadowed by her weak grip and the sadness that would not go away.
She slowly went down the stairs, wishing her father had sent her brother instead of her, wasn’t he stronger? To find her mother had already cleaned up the broken glass, and left the hallway. There was no sign that anything had even happened, and she felt her breath catch in her throat in dismay. “Oh mom!”
She gripped the box in her hands tightly as she made her way back downstairs to the front room, putting it down on the coffee table amid shouts of “You’re so dumb!” “You’re the dumb one!” “Dad, he called me dumb!”
“Shut up, both of you!” their father yelled, his voice full of frustration and anger. “Can’t you think of anybody but yourselves? Can’t you see your mother is upset?”
Sharon’s brother and sister looked in surprise at their mother, who was sitting in the rocking chair by the tree, gazing at the empty fur in a dazed, tearful silence. The lights had already been put on by their father, his only willing participation in the ceremony. It just waited for the ornaments to grace it’s branches. The room fell silent, even the CD had stopped, and they could almost hear the drop of each tear as it fell off their mother’s cheek.
“What’s wrong, mom?” Kaity walked over, slipping an arm around her mother’s shoulders. “Someone die?”
“No,” their father said, sparing his wife from having to talk. “The box of ornaments got broken.”
“The ornaments?” the two of them gasped at the same time.
All the kids knew how special those ornaments were, and the thought of them being broken now was a true shock. They looked at Sharon, who was miserably opening up the box of hand made ornaments, wishing she could sink under the floor.
“What happened, Sharon?” Jack asked, his voice sharp. “Did you trip on something?”
Sharon shook her head, her chin trembling with her own despair. “I-it just slipped out of my hands,” she whispered.
Her brother was about to rail on her, and Kaity looked as if she would join in, but their father glared at them and everyone fell silent. Sharon realized that he seemed to know it was almost as terrible a thing for her as it was for their mother.
The next hour was spent silently adorning the tree with the few ornaments remaining, and Sharon looked at it in silent reproach to herself, knowing it was never enough for the large tree they had gotten. Watching her mother and father as they spoke softly to each other, she knew that they were debating if more decorations could be afforded.
Slipping away, she went to her room and retrieved the special one she’d made at school. She felt perhaps it would ease the pain in her mother’s heart, even if it couldn’t replace the whole box that she’d broken. She quietly reentered the family room, noticing the music had been restarted, and some light conversation between her brother and sister took some of the tension out of the room.
She walked up to her mother, still sitting in the rocking chair, and placed the paper wrapped item on her lap.
“Mom, I made this in art class and I wanted you to put it on the tree.”
Her mother looked up at her, a quizzical expression on her face, but she said nothing, only slowly unwound the newspaper that Sharon had made sure protected every inch. When she was finished, she held up a large Angel, complete with wire wings and halo over her glistening glass head.
“Oh, Sharon!” her mother’s astounded whisper was like a balm to her sad heart, and it lifted with some hope. “You made this?”
Her father reached out and lightly touched the fine wire that was serving as the wings and halo, as if he was afraid it would break under his touch.
“You made this by yourself?” His voice was low with wonder, and Sharon felt she’d finally done the right thing for once.
“Yeah, um, we were working with glass and wire as an experiment this past quarter, and I thought we needed a real angel for our tree.”
Her brother and sister came over to examine the angel and their oohs and ah’s were added to her parents, and then her father looked up, a determined expression on his face.
“Jack, go grab that chair and pull it over. This angel needs to be put on the top.”
Within minutes, they were all sitting in the darkened room, the Christmas lights on the tree the only light. The glistening angel at the top of the tree seemed to glow and fill the room with heavenly light. Sharon sat by her mother, whose arm rested tightly around her shoulders.
“Thank you, dear,” she said softly, her voice full of love. “That makes all the difference in the world.”
Somehow for a few minutes, Sharon realized the worries and fears of the future, the incident with the broken ornaments—all was pushed aside while they gazed at the small representation of a miracle in their lives, and she knew her mother forgave her.
What her family didn’t know, was her glass angel didn’t have a face. But, each of them were able to see features in the glass as they looked at it. They knew that someone dear was watching over them—which was what her mother had always said about the ornaments she had cherished. She had felt that each of their ancestors was watching over them through the ornaments she had held so dear. Now they were all gathered into one item of love, and it made everything able to bear again.