The stupid little guy behind the tree


‘Tis the Christmas season, which means time for many of us to honor longstanding cultural traditions:  decorating the Christmas tree, putting up lights in the freezing cold, awaking to presents on the morning of the 25th, and gorging ourselves on turkey and stuffing with our extended family (even if we can’t stand to be around them any other day).

One of our family’s more recent traditions is the stupid little guy on the back of the tree.

Back when I was little, my grandfather used to take my cousin and I to the local Gaudio’s store Christmas display every year, and then let us pick out any ornament we wanted. Of course, having the aesthetic tastes of very small children, my cousin and I came home with some doozies. That crazy thing pictured above was one of them.

Every year my mom and I would battle it out as to whether he would even make it out of the ornament box. She thought it was the stupidest thing she had ever seen (she did have a point there), and thought we could do without it. I, on the other hand, was adamant that he be allowed to hang out with the other ornaments. To my mom’s diplomatic credit, she agreed that he could go up — on the back of the tree where she didn’t have to look at it.

And thus a Clifford family tradition was born.

For the last 30-something years that little guy has had a place of honor on the back of my tree.  He’s survived countless moves  to adorn trees big and small, live and fragrant, fabricated and pre-lit.  My mom wasn’t the only one I battled with over the years to get him his place, but thanks to the “back of the tree” rule she initiated, I always managed to win out. “If you can’t see him, why  do you care?” I’d argue.

This Christmas my son is almost five, and in the full throes of Christmas glee.  We decorated the tree together, and when I pulled out the stupid little man I told him this story and then hung it happily behind the tree.

“But it’s your tree now, mommy. Why can’t you hang him on the front?”  my son asked.  “I could put him on the front,” I replied, “but hanging him back there every year reminds me of those fun arguments I had with my mom long ago. That’s our tradition. It’s where he belongs.”

My son is enthralled with this story, and has asked me to tell it to him again nearly every day since. I’m sure it has something to do with the “kid wins argument with mom” undertones, but it makes me smile nonetheless.  In some small way it helps me bring together my mom who passed away years ago with the grandson she never had the chance to meet.

One day I’ll pass that stupid little guy on to my son. I look forward to the day when he’ll argue with his wife (and hopefully win) as to why this hideous thing has to be on the back of their tree, and then tell his kids the tale of their grandmom and great-grandmom who battled it out year after year over that silly ornament.

In a way that only our family will really understand, generations will be brought together for at least a moment, and through a poorly designed piece of flocked plastic our collective memories will live on…

Colleen Clifford

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