Friday, December 23, 2016

Ironic Advent 2016 Meditation #26: Dusty Old Advent (by Laura Lynn Brown)

 Ironic Advent 2016 Meditation #26
Dusty Old Advent

*A guest meditation by Laura Lynn Brown.   

I brought a dusty old ceramic Christmas tree home this week. Last night I set it up on my table, redistributed the colored plastic “bulbs” so most of the bulbless holes were in the back, and examined the elderly-looking, pre-UL listing plug. Was it safe? Would it still work?

If anything in the past month has felt like the hope-and-anticipation-tinged-with-doubt that marks the Advent season, it was that moment when I carried that ancient plug toward the modern outlet and wondered whether anything would happen.

When my mom worked in the public schools where I grew up, a coworker-friend gave her that tree, the kind that people made back in the 1970s when ceramics class was a popular pastime. It’s mostly a smooth shiny dark green, with a sort of realistic dusting of bumpy matte white ceramic snow, and colored pointy bulb-shaped plastic bits stuck into the tips of the branches. When it was plugged in, a cylindrical light bulb inside made the plastic bits glow. 

That was a long time ago. After Mom died and Dad married Mom2, it went to their new house, and maybe it got set up there, though I don’t remember. I don’t remember because I moved away, a time zone and five states and almost a thousand miles away. For 25 years. And I hardly ever came home for Christmas.

Dad died three years ago. Last spring I uprooted myself from Arkansas and planted myself back in Pittsburgh, in the tri-state area (OH-WV-PA) where I grew up and where most of my people stayed. This week Mom2 gave me the tree, which looked even snowier than usual because it’s bearing at least a year of dust.

My mom used to set it atop her Singer cabinet sewing machine in the family room. I still have that sewing machine, and that’s its rightful place. But, one, it’s in my bedroom, where no one but me and the cat would see it, and two, the sewing machine top is covered with stuff and the room’s a wreck and the tree deserves better [Editorial note: is that two or four, Laura??]. So I put it on the table, where it can keep company with the big tree.

Actually, the cat and I are the only ones seeing the big tree now or the dusty little ceramic tree. But on Christmas Day, I’ll bring my oldest relative over. And on the third day of Christmas, my brother and his family will come. Aunt might remember. Brother will remember. I want the stuff in this room to … show? speak? bear? the festivity of Christmas.

Bear. It’s a lot for a vintage piece of ceramic to bear — my hopes, my memories, my dumbfoundedness at how simple objects, long-term perishables, like glass, like plastic, can still exist decades after their human owners have died. This is the year when the number of Christmases without mom surpasses the number I had with her. So that tree has to hold memories and expectations that, if they had weight, would surely crush it.

If you saw the picture, you already know how this ends. I plugged it in, and, lo and behold, it lit up.

I had forgotten it also had a music box built in. I turned the key, and the plinky sad music-box sound came out. I could name that tune in six notes.

O lit-tle town of Beth-…

Today I stopped at the crafts store my aunt used to take me to when I was a kid and we were both into beadwork. I asked the first red-sweatshirted worker I found. I’m looking for something. Remember those ceramic Christmas trees? Do you by chance have replacement b—

Yes. Aisle 11C. Replacement plastic bulbs, and light bulbs, and cords, and the other thing I was missing: the star-shaped tree topper.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in tree tonight. 

Laura Brown is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. We met in Lauren Winner's memoir workshop at the Glen Workshop in Santa Fe. We then met for breakfast at Waffle House in Little Rock, AK every year when I drove down to Texas. But she messed that up by moving to Pittsburgh. Her book Everything That Makes You Mom can be ordered just about anywhere, but certainly on Her blog, Spending Attention can be found at She plays a mean Irish whistle (especially nice when our mutual friend Tania Runyan is on the fiddle). Despite our friendship, Ben Camino must take offense at her unauthorized wordplay in the final line. 


  1. Laura, is there a Waffle House in Pittsburgh? IF not, HAVE you been to the amazing Thai Restaurant in downtown? Thanks so much for doing this.

  2. Laura Lynn Brown is also a former journalist, and completed this piece speedily against her own stated deadline, which is why there are things she would have edited and rewritten if she had started earlier. And she also writes sporadically at Notes From an Urban Cabin (

    Ben, are you sitting down? There are no Waffle Houses in Pittsburgh. But (and because) there are many Eat'n Parks, which is where I'd take wayfaring friends for breakfast 24/7. I've been to a few Thai places, but not one dahntahn, as the natives say.