A bit over 18 years ago, I was given a turd ball. And I’ve cherished it ever since. That might seem either weird or perverted, but it isn’t. Instead, the gift of a turd ball was a demonstration of love and compassion. And that turd ball is one of my very favorite things.
In 1992, I was 24 years old, scrounging up the money to buy the weekly groceries, working a job I didn’t enjoy, and looking forward to getting married. Mister Soandso graduated in May and our families gathered in the days before and after Thanksgiving weekend for our wedding. One of the things my now mother-in-law did was have a bridal shower for me – a few friends came and some of the local family members. We gathered in Aunt Earlene’s living room, opened presents, drank punch, and made Christmas ornaments. You might find your eyebrow raising a bit, but my mother-in-law knows a bit about starting out married life in the realm of dirt-poor and so she knew that our first Christmas tree, just a few weeks after our wedding, was likely to be rather barren without a little help from her. I thought then, and still do, it was a great idea.
In the process of that particularly rainy afternoon, I became the recipient of glass balls with plastic holly leaves hot glued to their surface and other such handmade Christmas ornaments. As well as one Turd Ball.
My father-in-law is a barrel chested man with hands and feet far larger than his 5’something” stature would suggest. A strong grip, a sweet smile, and now a shock of white hair, he is in many ways the man my husband will someday become. As you can see in this photo of he and I, taken back in 2004, Ed could be Santa with a few minor adjustments. And as far as I’m concerned, he is a whole lot like Santa.
In his lifetime, Ed has performed many duties in his many jobs and careers. When I met him, he was a seminary professor. Before that, he’d been a minister in the United Church of Christ. One of his experiences as a minister was working with the inmates in a local correctional facility. I’m sure the experience was much like what you would expect, for both the inmates and the people working with them. I don’t know. What I do know is that Ed and his peers made Christmas ornaments with the inmates and through the process, Ed made an ornament to hang on his tree at home. An ornament his children christened the “turd ball.” It’s a styrofoam ball, covered in green holiday fabric and then creased so that the fabric clings to the surface of the styrofoam. Due to the dark fabric and rather “lumpy” surface, I suppose my husband and his siblings can be forgiven for bestowing such an inglorious name upon the thing. Although I have to say, I’ve never seen anything quite like that in any toilet bowl. But it was an activity for the in-mates to do – a way to pass another snowy Minnesota day. I have a feeling that for many, it was also a way to make the Christmas season less solitary and more festive. A way to help heal some of the pain Christmas brings for so many people.
Years passed, Ed left Sauk Center, MN for the Twin Cities and became a professor with United Theological Seminary. The house was packed up, the kids were uprooted from their classrooms, and the Christmas decorations and a few 100 more boxes were moved to the Minneapolis area for the next chapter of Ed’s career. And in their new homes, year after year, Ed and his family made Christmas special for themselves and for others. Every year I hear my husband and his sisters reminisce about the Christmases of their youth, the trees they trekked through frigid snowstorms to cut down, the cookies exchanges they looked forward to for eleven months of the year.
And in the those stories I hear of the greatest gift a person can give another: the gift of cherished memories. Have you ever thought about that? About how you add or subtract from another’s memories with everything you do, everything you say. The Christmas I was pregnant with Oldest, my midwife remarked, “Isn’t it wonderful? You have a chance to make someone’s memories.” It is an awesome responsibility and one I take very seriously.
Each Christmas season, we haul the boxes of stuff out of the attic and swear that this year we’re going to get rid of some of the less-than-awesome stuff we’ve collected over the past 18 Christmases. And every year we just add more stuff, buy another Rubbermaid tote to hold it all, and fall in love with yet another hand-made ornament made by hands we love to hold.
Marrying Mister Soandso and marrying into his family was a gift I would never have asked Santa for and yet it was the perfect gift…more people who love me, wish me well, and hope my memories are wonderful.
Now days, we have two Christmas trees. The kids have absconded with the box of hand-made ornaments from my long-ago bridal shower as well as most of the others. Which leaves my tree upstairs a demonstration of simplicity: white lights, a left-over string of beads, the silver balls. And one very special decoration which I always put where I can be reminded of what Santa really brings: proof that when people connect with others in loving, compassionate ways, the world is a bit more magical, a bit warmer, a bit more memorable.