Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Christmas ornaments bring back precious memories

Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2010 12:00 am

When I met Angie and her girls, I knew that I would play some kind of role in their lives. At minimum, I would be their neighbor...that 'fun guy up the street with those three golden retrievers'. The girls were very young and they referred to me as “Nabes”, their version of the word neighbor which I still find endearing to this day. Little did I know how the story would continue to unfold.

The first Christmas that I knew them, I gave them each a Christopher Radko Christmas ornament. Without intention, it became an annual tradition. I had never collected them before that time. The detailed and colorful mercury glass ornaments weren't my style and prior to this occasion, I really had no use for them. The ornaments have so many themes — everything from turtles, santas, penguins, nutcrackers to spaceships. The bright colors and the materials weave a common thread through the ornaments so that when put together on a tree, they really look great together.

I happened across a snowman ornament that was covered in holly. Knowing that Angie's oldest daughter's middle name is Holley (also Angie's maiden name) I knew that one had to be for her. Angie's younger daughter was amazed with the solar system at the time and thanks to Christopher Radko, I discovered an ornament that was the sun with little planets springing on wire all around it. After we were married and Landon was born I began buying Angie ornaments with three of “something” because she's the mother of three.

The girls opened the ornaments that year very carefully and looked at them in awe for a few seconds and then set them aside and tore into the much anticipated toys that were on their 'Santa list'. The same scenario has played out for the last nearly ten years, starting with me looking for the perfect ornament. I search for one that reminds me of some significant event that happened that year, which can be memorialized in an ornament. After giving it to them, I carefully wire it on the tree which I then place on top of a piano so that kids, dogs and cats can't break them!

This year something different happened. Usually, I put the tree up really early since my job involves doing so much of this sort of thing for businesses and individuals, I'm always worried that ours won't get done. October and November were literally a blur and our tree didn't get done. So last week I put the tree up. The girls were there and Landon was bringing the ornaments to me because he wanted to “help”. As he ran back and forth from the table to the tree while we all held our breath and in his own way “carefully” set them on the piano, something occurred to me.

I told the girls again what each ornament meant. “Remember when we had to run to the hardware store and get that really long fruit picker thing to get every pear off of the tree? Thus, the pear tree ornament. “Remember when there was a real mouse in your doll house and your mom was gone and we set traps all around it and when the mouse started moving we all jumped on your bed and started screaming?” That incident introduced the mouse-in-the-teacup ornament. “Remember when all you wanted for Christmas was a horse? — the special edition horse ornament! And so on...

The night I dreaded, putting up yet another tree turned out to be one of the “big moments” in my life and it was completely unplanned. I said “someday you'll each have a box of these ornaments for your own houses and when you use them again you'll remember these good times.” I saw in their faces that they really knew what I was talking about for about 30 seconds until Landon interrupted our moment and said “Hey Dad, can we have some popcorn!”

As I look at this tree that once had two Christopher Radko ornaments which now has 26, I can't help but think how correct all the people were who told me to enjoy it now; “it goes so fast”. The quantity of ornaments on the tree are proof of how far we've come. Fortunately, the entire backside of the tree is empty!

All my best to you and your families for a peaceful and beautiful holiday filled with endearing memories.