When I was just a li'l kid, I desperately wanted a parakeet. On rare trips into what passes for the big city around here, I'd attach myself to the pet department of Woolworth's and stare forlornly at the budgie cages until dragged away to look at clothes or kitchenware or some other equally boring merchandise.
One of my aunts felt my pain, and when I was about five or six she gave me these two plastic parakeets to put on the little tree that my parents put up in my playroom. These were real trees, scraggly white pine saplings culled from our property -- dead ringers for Charlie Brown's classic tree.
These 40-year-old birds look fairly charming in my photo -- almost real, if you don't focus too hard -- but the fact of the matter is, they've seen better days. One is missing a foot; both are missing significant amounts of paint. Both of them have suffered assault at the hands, or more accurately the fangs, of family pets. Now, whenever I pull them out of the ornament chest, my mother rolls her eyes and exclaims, "You're not putting those on the tree, are you?"
I do. But in these latter days, they are consigned to the back of the tree, the side facing the front porch window. Because, on one hand, you don't want a naked Christmas tree facing the world; it looks dumb. On the other hand, you don't want to waste your really pretty ornaments by hanging them where almost noone can see them.
So the budgies are at the back. As are a pair of yellowed crocheted snowflakes, and an inexplicable plastic-canvas-needlepoint creature that someone gave my mother many years ago, and a small glass Christmas tree that arrived as a premium on a jar of instant coffee, and a little knitted bell that once came attached to a Christmas gift. A couple of artsy-craftsy wooden ornaments whose purchase seemed like a good idea at the time. Some plain glass balls that are...well...unremarkable in any way.
At a time of year when I'm doing a certain amount of reviewing and retooling and perhaps even reinventing, I wonder if I'm not a little like my Christmas tree, trying to keep the shabbier parts of myself out of sight, yet not quite ready to let go of them. And maybe some of them shouldn't be let go of; maybe I'm in fact undervaluing what role they've played in making me who I am.
Maybe next year the budgies will migrate to the front of the tree.
Sweet birds of youth