We are decorating the tree.
It’s not a real tree. My mother opens the big cardboard box, pulls out the pole, sets it up. Then she takes the branch sections out. Spots of paint on the twisted metal branch ends match the spots of paint on the pole. There’s an orange row, a blue row, a red row, a yellow row, and then the top section, all in one piece.
The tree is together, whole.
The string of lights has big colored bulbs. Red, green, yellow, blue. Most of the ornaments are Styrofoam balls covered in silky, hairlike strands. Red, white, blue, gold. They shimmer in the light. I am allowed to hang some of these on the tree.
The most beautiful thing of all is the tree topper.
It is not a star. It is a tall, pointed, gold thing. Three sparkling silver bells hang over a rounded part where gold bars make a swirly cage over a soft, bright, pinkish-coral ball of something.
“Can I hold it?” I ask.
My mother places the topper in my hands. I can see the room, I can see us, reflected in miniature on the golden surface. The silver bells are frosty with glitter. I am entranced by the pinkish stuff. “What is this?” I ask, pointing.
“Angel hair,” says Mama. “Don’t touch it—it will cut you.”
She takes the strange, beautiful thing from my hands, then, standing on a chair, works it down over the tree top where it sits like a crown.
I am thinking many thoughts. How can angel hair cut me? My own hair is so soft. It could never cut anything. Are angels so strong, so powerful, that their hair is somehow sharp? Why do angels have hair this color, like the sky at sunset? In every picture I’ve ever seen, their hair is blonde or white. Maybe even silver. I cannot picture hair this color on an angel, or what kind of face such an angel would have. I shiver. Angels are gentle and good, right? Don’t they protect children? A song is on the radio, something about falling on your knees, hearing angel voices . . . I am not scared, exactly. I am still. I am full of wondering. How did the angel lose the hair that is in our tree topper?
Then I think of another song.
In the tree top
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
And down will come baby
Cradle and all.
—Why would a cradle be in a tree top? Who would put a baby in a place that was so dangerous? Why wasn’t the baby protected?
So many whys. So many things to wonder about.
My mother shows me how to toss little handfuls of icicles, long silver strings, on the edges of the branches so they’ll catch and hang there until the entire tree shines with make-believe ice and magic.
All the while, I keep looking up at the angel hair.
* * * * * * *
If I could speak to my little self, if my voice from my vantage point now could reach across the vista of decades, I would say: There will be many angels in your life, with skin of many colors, real hair of many colors, not spun glass, They will not cut you or harm you. They are the people who bring healing when others bring harm. They will bring comfort and joy that outweigh pain and loss. They will pull the scattered pieces together when things fall apart, so you will feel whole. Things will not always look as expected; people who should protect make perilous choices, but there will always be better angels who step in when needed most. Always.
Be strong. Believe. Be the better angel, whenever, wherever you can.
Merry Christmas, child that I was.
And Christmas grace to you, my reader in the here and now, to the child you were and to all of your angels.
Remember. Let the wonder live anew.