Thursday, December 23, 2010

Nothing Says "Christmas" Like…

Nothing says "Christmas" like...

…a dead mouse.

Well, to be accurate, an ornament with a dead mouse as an integral part of it.

Yesterday was the annual Shade & Shade Ornament Exchange and Luncheon. Shade & Shade is the law firm I worked at for almost a decade when I moved back home in late 1990. I don't remember when it happened, but somewhere along the way, someone, probably my dear friend Laurie, one of the secretaries there, organized an ornament exchange among the staff. We'd gather for lunch at the office, each bringing a wrapped ornament, eat together, and then draw numbers and pick an ornament from the wrapped pile. Over the years, some of the faces have changed, but the tradition rolls on. I left the firm in January, 2000, but have continued to participate in the Exchange every December.

While I don't remember every ornament I have received over the years, there are many I look at as I am decorating the tree and instantly think "ah, Shade & Shade."

This year's ornament will forever be first on that list.

Yesterday was fun. It always is. Of the eight of us in the room, most had worked together for over a decade, over two decades or more in some cases. (Laurie, who is a few years younger than I, started as a secretary there when she was 17; it is the only job she has ever held.) Dave Shade, who founded the firm and was a big influence on my becoming a lawyer, joined us for lunch and wry editorial commentary, at which he is excellent.While we ate, we talked and then got to telling stories from past years. Laughter and good feelings filled the room.

The big moment arrived: the Exchange began. We drew our numbers from a coffee cup. Laurie arranged the gift bags and boxes on the center of the conference table. I was six out of seven, so I watched while One through Five chose various bags. By the time my turn came, one of the two bags left came from the other remaining participant, so I chose that bag so Seven could get someone else's ornament.

A note about Number Seven: Matt was number Seven. Matt is an associate attorney who started there several years after I left. Matt has an excellent sense of humor, especially when it comes to quick comments with a deadpan look.

I thought Matt looked a little uncomfortable that I got "stuck" (his words) with his ornament. I soon found out why.

We opened our bags. "Oohs" and "ahhs" filled the room. There were glass ornaments, there were delicate metal ornaments, there were shimmering, gossamer ornaments. On either side of me and all around me,  Carly, Kelsey, Lindsay, Eileen, Laurie, and Matt were pulling these light, airy wonders out of their wrappings.

Mine came out of the bag with a tug. I looked at it and burst into loud laughter. Matt now looked extremely uncomfortable and started to turn red.

"April, what did you get?"

That was Laurie, who is one of the world's sweetest people.

"I got a dead mouse," I promptly replied and held it up for all to see.

Matt had bought a cat ornament. The cat is curled around a candy cane and looks very happy. Small wonder. It has a spring dangling off one paw, and at the end of the spring is a mouse. The mouse does not look happy. The mouse looks doomed. The cat is clearly toying with it, ready for the kill. The mouse, if not dead already, will soon be lunch.

Matt tried to explain. Of the seven of us exchanging ornaments, four are huge cat lovers. So Matt bought the cat ornament, assuming one of them would pick his. "What are the odds? What are the odds?" he kept asking.

Apparently not good enough.

Dave made the final dry comment. "Well, it looks like six of you got great ornaments…"

The Exchange ended with laughter and hugs and best holiday wishes. I came home and hung the cat ornament high on the tree, the mouse dangling in dread.

My friend Cindy and I exchanged emails this morning. Knowing I was at the Exchange yesterday, she wrote "Glad you got to do your ornament exchange. I remembered you do that every year. Tradition!  That is what helps make Christmas CHRISTMAS! Traditions!"

Cindy is right. Traditions are what makes our family and community life so rich. That's one of the reasons I continue to attend the Shade & Shade Ornament Exchange: it is a deeply embedded part of my holiday traditions.

And apparently those traditions now include one cat ornament, complete with dead mouse.

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