Creative Thinking: Our real wealth is kept in our memory banks

December 21, 2013 

Have you ever seen something that immediately took you back to another place and time? The journey is as effortless as shuffling a deck of cards as we travel through decades. If we’re lucky, our mind will stop at the exact place we want to visit from our past. How long we choose to stay there is up to us.

There’s no better time than the holiday season to awaken memories and visit with loved ones who’ve gone before us. On this Sunday before Christmas, I’ve been “memory traveling” at just about every turn. There are so many things around us to trigger our past. That’s part of the magic of Christmas!

I was attending a party the other day when I came upon an old hand-painted ceramic Christmas tree. I smiled as I remembered the ones my mother had painted when I was a small boy. “Retro” is what they’re called now, but back then they were quite new.

They were usually table-top trees that were glazed with a shiny, emerald green paint and then fired in a kiln. Small holes were drilled on each branch to accommodate tiny, plastic colored lights. At the bottom of the inside of the tree a light bulb was installed and, with just the flick of a switch, the little tree glowed with pride.

I chuckled to myself as I remembered Mother opting to “flock” her tree with special textured snow paint. Although she carefully applied the special paint, it appeared to be a little thick. That was fine except that the snow “melted” during the firing process and accidentally filled some of the holes drilled for the lights. I continued to smile as I thought how aggravating Christmas tree lights can be for not only ceramic trees but also for real ones.

One of Mother’s trees met an early demise when a repairman turned abruptly in the laundry room causing the ceramic tree to fall from the shelf. Mother was furious when she heard the crash.

“I know that wasn’t my ceramic tree I just heard breaking,” she muttered to herself as she bolted to the laundry room. Indeed it had been, and Mother almost cried. I wish I still had one of her ceramic trees. Instead, I’ll have to enjoy the memory of her and it.

I was wrapping Christmas presents the other night when I recalled another memory. As I carefully taped the folded edge on the side of the box, I journeyed back in time. Our Christmas gift exchanges always started off pretty and organized but quickly ended with a designated person using a large trash bag to collect the wadded up, torn fragments of gift wrap, bows and ribbon.

While it takes a lot of time and patience to wrap a beautiful gift, it is clear that it takes mere seconds to undo that beauty.

Unless, that is, you were my grandmother. She had this uncanny and almost magical way of unwrapping her gifts without tearing the gift wrap. It took her a little longer, of course, but she always won the battle. She would take her arthritic fingers and ever so carefully and gently slide her fingernails between the tape and the paper, freeing the gift without as much as a scratch to the paper or ribbon.

She then neatly folded the rescued paper and placed it and the used bows beside her on the floor next to her chair. We knew, even as children, not to dare touch this stack. These paper remnants were as much of a gift to her as the actual gift.

When she gathered her things to depart, she collected the used gift wrap and tucked it neatly under her arm. As we watched her leave through the front door, we always knew that the gift wrap would make an encore appearance next year on our gifts. The funny thing is that you could hardly tell the difference unless you looked very closely. Then you would see that the fold marks did not quite line up exactly.

While I was visiting the “gift-wrapping” section of my memory bank, another episode popped into my mind. As a small child, I would sometimes sneak and unwrap my Christmas presents prior to their official offering. I would then rewrap them and return them to their original places under the tree. When they were given to me, you have never seen such an act of delight and surprise. I deserved an Oscar for my performance.

I thought I was never caught in this unwrapping caper until my mother informed me one day that she knew what I was doing. Shocked and with a red face, I asked her to tell me how she knew. She said that the presents were always better wrapped after I rewrapped them than when she had wrapped them the first time. I guess all that unwrapping and rewrapping gave me a lot of practice and made me somewhat of a gift wrapping expert. At least my grandmother always thought I was.

“Precious Memories,” a song my daddy always loved, sums up my holiday memories. They are special and wrapped with love and I treasure each and every one of them. With Christmas only a few days away, we have before us a wonderful opportunity to create some beautiful memories. They don’t have to be enclosed in fabulously decorated boxes, but simply given from the heart in the form of a kind word to someone in need or a helping hand for a person or family less fortunate.

It doesn’t matter the form. Just be sure to go out and create something beautiful this holiday season for you, for your loved ones and for your community. Who knows how many times people will stop off to visit with these memories in the years to come.

More with Mark

• It’s not too late to shop for the holidays with Mark. Visit www.markballard.com for Christmas gifts and year-round treats.

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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