Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Ornamental Star, a Christmas Story

Here's a charming Christmas Story by "cousin" Tom Williams. He's a Marco Island charter captain and scuba diver and the author of Lost and Found, a fine thriller which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

The Ornamental Star

By Tom Williams

            All of the ornaments knew that Christmas was coming. Most of the decorations tried to remain calm, but as autumn turned to winter, the tension in the storage boxes became unbearable. Almost every ornament could remember the housemother’s sigh when she opened the box and at least one globe had shattered with worry. It happened every year. All the decorations were packed away into the New Year whole, but as the holidays approached, someone always fractured with upcoming tension.
As every ornament knew, each year was different and full of possibilities. On some years, the elderly globes were chosen right away. They were selected first and set atop the highest branches. On other years, the housemother would be younger and the elders would not even be allowed out of the box. On some unfortunate holiday seasons, Christmas trees would end up with day-glow tinsel, or even the humiliation of fake snow flocking.
Everyone, new or old-fashioned, gilded or plain, wanted a good placement on the tree. Higher was always better, but on some years, a lower branch could be your destiny and a dreadful perch within easy reach of a toddler or the house cat on patrol. Every ornament could recall at least one acquaintance, pulled from the tree and shattered on the floor.
Of course, no one wanted to think about the end, the broom, and the dustbin, and most understood that contemplating destruction was not the right attitude when emerging from the box. Every decoration had heard the old stories about the ornaments with optimism; the more the inner glow, the easier it was to shine and capture the housemother’s eye.
This year when the boxes came down, all the decorations were optimistic for higher branches and higher status, but most of all, every ornament and every light, wanted to be near the shining star. Even the less ambitious globes wanted a good place on the tree; but every globe, no matter how large or small, wanted to be away from the lower branches, the little pulling fingers, and the easy reach of the climbing cat and the deadly paws of destruction.
From the moment the housemother opened the box, Bobsled Jangles knew he had a good chance. After all, this was the same housemother as the year before. The very same who carefully considered Bobsled and placed him well above the others.
He had clearly been a favorite, and was able to watch the shining star as she rose from her private package. He had even witnessed the coupling with the electric lights, as she gained her shining radiance.
Everyone knew that the lights thought they were special, but to Bobsled Jangles the artificial glow was no match for a good globes’ inner enthusiasm.
Suddenly, Bobsled shuddered. In the next section, an elderly globe with a blue body and a snowflake pattern was lifted out in pieces, his hanger broken, and his sparkling remains useless.
The housemother reacted in her usual way: a head tilt of regret, a sigh of disappointment, and then a move toward the inevitable dustbin.
Enthusiasm, Bobsled Jangles reminded himself, the inner glow, and the living spirit of Christmas was the true secret and strength of the holidays.
Even as he focused and tried to shine, someone from the corner of the box was lifted: an elongated shiny teardrop, golden with a new hanger. The housemother went to her tiptoes and suddenly the golden teardrop was well above Bobsled’s last position, and hanging on a branch almost at the top.
This housemother was fast, and before Bobsled could focus, another globe was chosen but to everyone’s horror, the new age silver ball was destined for the lowest branch, and a sacrificial position perfect for toddlers and cat’s paws.
Bobsled could see the broom and dustbin, and he shuddered with a little rattle. The unexpected action must have attracted the housemother’s attention, because before he could even concentrate on shining, Bobsled Jangles was out of the box and flying. His hanger held precariously, as one of the dreaded toddlers came running into the room. A hideous cry escaped from the child’s lips and destructive hands reached upward to claw at Bobsled’s bottom.
All thoughts of shining were tossed to the wayside as Bobsled and his gilded snowy path and horse-drawn sleigh dangled in the uncertain future. With an almost shattering whoosh, the housemother bent at the knees and Bobsled plunged downward. Before he could do anything but dangle near the grasping toddler’s fingers, he was up and away and pulled to safety. But not really safe, and still in turmoil, as the housemother appeared to be undecided. Then as the toddler quickly turned to approach her private package, the housemother lifted Bobsled Jangles to the tree’s very center and much higher than ever before.
For the moment, Bobsled was overwhelmed, he had never been so well placed and never so high. He was even safe from the bigger children’s clutches and he was very near the top. When he looked aloft, he could even see the highest branch, the end of the lights, and the very pinnacle where she would ultimately rest.
With typical ornamental nature, the quickened thoughts of believing his placement might be a dream, or that he was precariously hung or destined to fall, quickly evaporated. His place was here, near the top, and he was safely anchored. Only two other globes were higher than Bobsled, but none as large and easy to notice.
When all the others had found their destinies, and when the lights were on and everyone was shining, the housemother opened the package.

“It’s time again Miss Highpoint,” the protective garments rustled.
“Forget it!” the reclining star responded. “They never give me enough time, I’m not finished resting. My prongs are still sore from last year’s tree and I want nothing to do with those sleazy electric lights. Just tell me why I have to go on?”
The protective garments sighed. “Miss Highpoint, you know that Christmas isn’t the same without you. You are the most important, and the pinnacle of the holidays. All the others look up to you!”
“But I don’t want to go! I want to stay in the box. I want nothing to do with this year’s tree!”
“Miss Highpoint, you know that’s not an option.”
“Yes it is! Close this box! I’m not leaving this chamber! Besides, all those other ornaments are so common and boring. I simply can’t be bothered!
“Miss Highpoint, the housemother is coming.” The protective garments settled deeper.
“I can’t go again—not to the top. I’ve developed a fear of heights. That’s it! A fear of heights! Seal this box, I’m not going!”
Then she was out of the package and into the light. This year’s tree looked even pricklier and the odor from the pine boughs stronger than ever; enough to cause a headache even in the most senior of stars.
Again, she was rising, higher and higher, her destination assured. She passed the old, the young, the round and the engraved, the stupid lights that blinked and the ones that heaven forbid: bubbled. Past the middle, where at least, some social order existed, but the higher she rose, it was easier to look down upon the others. Everything was so boring, but just near the top when she was forced to stop and endure the dreadful “plugging in,” Her Celestial Majesty; the First Lady of Highpoint was slightly amused.
Looking at her almost eye to eye was a silly, old blue ornament with a horse-drawn sleigh. As she was being arranged, the blue globe was staring. He was staring as the sleazy electric lights were being coupled, and as the pinnacle of the tree was being prepared to accept her prongs.
“What are you looking at?” the shining star hissed.
“Pardon me Miss Highpoint,” Bobsled jangles stuttered. “But I never even hoped we would meet. I never even dreamed meeting you was possible!”
“You idiot! We haven’t been introduced! Don’t you realize that you and all the commoners are just something beneath me? I’m the true star, and the only real ornament, and—
“Oh my God,” a neighboring ornament gasped when the star was suddenly taken to the top and secured on her perch. “What did she say?” the smaller ornament whispered, “She was too far away, and when she was plugged in and her radiance came, I was star struck! Tell me older brother, what did she say?”
Bobsled Jangles looked first to the little ornament who was questioning, then across to the others who were watching, and finally down to all the less fortunate globes, lights, and lesser ornaments. He then thought about the years of tradition, of high hopes and disappointment, and then the true spirit of the holidays. After a moment, he cautiously whispered.
“She said to be careful what you wish for . . . and to be happy where you are.”
            Happy Holidays!
Be sure to check out Tom Williams' Website