The basic idea is to have sets of ornaments that the boys, Vanessa’s three nephews, can open each year at Christmas. They’ll all be wrapped and ready, stored in Jess’s attic, ready to open one set a year till 2032. It’s been a group project from the start. (Vanessa had the idea back in Vanessa 1.0 days, and we all wanted to encourage her to tackle the project, since it was such a great idea.)
First off came The Great Ornament Purchase, where Billy and Vanessa spent hours at Ten Thousand Villages picking out all of the ornaments, even cozying up to the saleswoman and getting a special early go at the inventory in the back. A few days later, Jess, Vanessa and I carefully decided which ornaments would go with which years — the smells-like-cinnamon one first (lest it lose its delicious scent before it got opened!), then soft and colorful ornaments for the early years, and then the more delicate ones for when the boys are a bit bigger. Vanessa tied gold and silver ribbons on each one with “LOVE V” and the corresponding year written in Sharpie.
Another day, Mom came over and she, Vanessa and I spent hours wrapping up the ornaments. We put everything in boxes with colorful tissue paper, then carefully wrapped everything, with Mom patiently helping V pick out the wrapping paper, then cut it, then fold it, then tape it, then pick out a gift tag sticker, then write their names and year to open the present…We said things like, “Max will be 17 that year!” and “OMG they’ll have armpit hair! And smelly feet!” and “Whoa! In 2032 they’ll be 25, 23 and 22!”
I was struck by so many things during these lovely afternoons. How Vanessa’s handwriting again looks like it did in 1992. How deliberately she wrote “LOVE V” on every ribbon and every label. How “2032” looks like a made up number, not a year. How nobody knows anything about where they’ll be in 2032. What will that Christmas look like? Will it snow? Who will be there? Who won’t be there?
Vanessa doesn’t ask these sorts of questions much these days. She’s very focused on the NOW, on the project in front of her, on whatever is in her hand at the moment. But I am grateful for the legacy she is already leaving us, the one that prior versions of herself came up with and that the current version carefully contributes to, even if not entirely remembering why she’s doing it. I know if I ever have kids (and again, who ever knows?) I will buy them handmade ornaments and sign them LOVE V and give my children a gift from my sister, through me.
And I was struck by how great of a choice Ten Thousand Villages was — a company that helps communities across the world live sincerely. How many hands from so many countries made these little ornaments that we attach our own meaning to. Because look at these women! They are part of the Association for Craft Producers in Nepal, and they are creating the little lions that Billy helped V pick out, that made me and Jess go “AWWWWW!”, and that Mom helped pack up and wrap for a future Christmas. These women are sitting together at a table in the sunlight creating something meaningful, just as I sat with my family at a table in the sunlight helping their creations find a home. These women and the stories behind their stitches will be part of the Yaeger family Christmas tree just as much as Vanessa and the stories behind her handwriting will be.
I am so humbled by these stories and the way they weave through each of us.