My great-grandmother was still alive when I was little. I called her Nina. I called her that because that’s what my mother called her, and for many years I did not realize that that’s what she and my uncle called her to distinguish her from their other grandmother, Nana. I thought “Nina” was her name. Which meant that for the longest time I did not realize that this woman was related to me. I thought she was just the nice lady who shacked up with Grandpa.

Nina and her sister (whom I never met) made hand-crafted Christmas ornaments. Beautiful, ornate, bejewelled things that were the pride of my Grandma Penny’s tree. A half-dozen or so years ago, she let my mother, brother and I select the ones we wanted. So now some of those breathtakingly lovely things hang on my tree.

What’s amazing is that in looking at them, I can hear the voices of generations past speaking to me through the craftsmanship and care so evident in their construction.

For example:

This one says, “Depression era women could butcher a hog, kill a chicken, bake a pie out of anything that didn’t move, whitewash floors and sew every stitch of clothing their family wore and you need a stapler to hem pants.”

If you listen closely to this one:

You hear, “Do you know how many times I stuck my finger with pins to make this? The least you could do is go bake something.”

Then there’s this one:

That whispers, “I owned nine different types of guns and I wasn’t afraid to use any of them and you can’t figure out an ant stake.”

And finally, this one:

That sings, “At an age where I could castrate livestock and deliver a breech cow, you were having the dry heaves over dissecting a frog in biology class.”

Well…That’s what they say individually.

But collectively they say, “Lori, we are so pleased with who you have become. We are proud to be the women who came before. Who you are is who we were, as you will be for those who come next. We love you, our girl child, very very much.”

So mostly I listen to them as a group.


    1. I don’t think they had glitter back in the day when these were being crafted.

      NOW, homemade has glitter and glue.

      Or better yet, glitter-glue pens.

  1. I had the same issue with my grandmother. I always called her “Gram Wheezie,” thinking that Wheezie was actually her real name. Nope. I just couldn’t say “Louise” when I was younger. The name stuck.

    Those ornaments are beautiful. They remind me of a local museum which displays the different decorations of Christmases throughout the years.

    Sorry to hear about your friend’s loss…it’s very nice of you to mention her in your post…a true friend!

    1. When I was really little I couldn’t pronounce my OWN name and so for a while I had the nickname Odie.

      Go me.

      And I feel a little silly posting the link to Leslie site, the post hasn’t gone live yet. She’s traveling with family so totally understandable. But I think I sent people to the Mystery Spot.

  2. My goodness, you have saucy-tongued ornaments. I love their snarky little remarks. All I have is Hideous Gumdrop Man, and I think his only thought is “Woo-Hoo! I’m not at the back of the tree again this year!”

    Hugs to your friend.

  3. I’m sorry, did you say something? I may have missed it while I was swooning over those gorgeous ornaments. Truly, I covet them. The detail is just amazing. What a treasure!

  4. Yes, and this post brings tears to my eyes. Because I hear the same thing when I pick up my grandmother’s things. I hear her voice telling me how wonderfully wonderful I am. And that has to become the loudest voice I hear.

    This was beautiful, Lori.

    1. Thank you lovely one.

      I truly started out with the intention that it just be a funny post about some of the skills that seem to have vanished, but truly, when I look at those ornaments I think about those women and the trails they blazed and I just love them very much.

  5. those are lovely ornaments.

    The ones I inherited from my grandmother and the ones my mom made & passed on to me all shout “Don’t touch! You’ll break them” in a loud voice whenever anyone comes near the tree.

    The voice sounds suspiciously like my mom’s.

  6. Oh my goodness. Those ornaments are beyond beautiful. Until they start yelling at me to break a chicken’s neck and shove my hand up it’s anus to feed my family. Then they become priceless.

  7. I too often wonder who these women were. How did we become so soft Lori? Where is my chutzpah? Why do I need Caramel Machiattos to get through my day? These women were so talented and accomplished in ways I will never be. I think you’d be surprised at how happy they would be for you, to have found other ways to be creative. Hmmm…. like this blog for instance. It has become an ornament I look at every day, and it brings me as much joy as your Christmas ornaments do to you.
    Take care,

    1. My house, like many in central/coastal California, has no insulation, and gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer. We lie around and sweat in the summertime, just waiting for our few-times-a-year very hot spells to pass, but we’re just used to it. But I can lie around in my underwear, and I can not cook anything. When peremenopause and occasional hot flashes started rolling around, I stopped to think: My ancestral women wore layers and layers of clothing to cook in the summer, in kitchens that were probably hotter within, on August days, then out in the sun. They had work to do all day, they didn’t get to lie around with damp towels on their bellies. One of my great grandmothers ran a boarding house in San Luis Obispo County, cooking and sewing and plucking chickens all day long, as a single mother with five children.


      I can’t fathom it. But they managed. They just tended to die haggard and very tired. :/

    2. I think, Lovely Dana, that that may be the sweetest compliment I’ve received in many a moon.

      And also…who DOESN’T need a Caramel Macchiatto to get through the day any more?

      You are not alone, my friend. Not alone at all.

  8. Those ornaments are AMAZING! I wish I had just a little bit of that kind of talent. It’s amazing what the women in previous generations could do! Used to think I should have lived back when – but as I get older I appreciate the time I was born in. Don’t have to butcher the pig to get the bacon, thank God. I just have to bring the bacon home :)

    1. Yes, I know that I could certainly have learned how, and done it with the same pragmatism that I employ for any icky job.

      But, I’m still SO glad that I don’t HAVE to.

      And also, I really really really really love hot and cold running water.

      I would be perpetually whiny with an outhouse.

  9. I love the pin-beaded ornaments. I was pondering trying to make some with the tiny photos when my RA releases its grip on my fingers this time around.

    1. My Grandma Penny actually had a little tree on a bookcase, once upon a time, and kept a few hanging on it year-round.

      But I like taking them out of the box and marveling at them every year.

      That’s part of the fun.

  10. I think those became popular again in the 70’s because my mom made some VERY similar to those and I LOOOVED them. But they didnt speak to me. lol ;)

    1. Oh, I’m sure they did. They’re just REALLY hard to hear over the Christmas chaos.

      It’s only now that my kids are older and out of the house more often that I can hear them.

  11. I’m a brand-new reader, and I just HAVE to comment on your fantastic ornaments!

    I HAVE SOME TOO! Here’s how I got mine:

    My grandmother and her sisters-in-law used to get together to make them. They’re gorgeous, as you well know. My Nana has probably 150 of these fabulous handmade jeweled ornaments on her tree every year. I hinted and hinted and then flat-out asked, but Nana would never give me any of hers. When that failed totally, I tried guilt. I reminded her how I was her favorite grandchild, I reminded her that I’m the only one who doesn’t try to make up words and pass them off as “new–Oxford added it this year” when we play Scrabble, I reminded her of that time she gave me that terrible spanking when I was eight over something MY COUSIN FRAMED ME FOR and we all found out the truth later. Nothing worked. My Nana can be a hard woman.

    Finally I came up with a no-fail plan: I would hold her hostage until she made me some of those great ornaments to have as my own. I knew that there were a bunch of ornament-making supplies in her attic because I’d seen it all years ago and no one’s cleaned out her attic in eons. Her attic is like a time capsule. Jimmy Hoffa might even be up there, and who would know? Anyway, you need to know that I’m not crafty. At all. This same Nana once tried to teach me to crochet and I was so bad at it that she finally announced that she might as well try to teach a bunch of pigs to sing, and that was the end of my craft lessons, period.

    Luckily, I am handy in the kitchen.

    Now my Nana is a very proper Southern lady. In her day she could do up individual beef Wellingtons, tomato aspic, pound cakes, finger sandwiches, and punch that matched the bridesmaid’s with the very best of them. But her all time favorite food is . . . .wait for it. . . . grilled cheeseburgers, which no one ever brings to an elderly Southern lady. She also likes fried okra, homemade ice cream, homemade cornbread with a crispy bottom and buttermilk. She can’t get around to cook much herself anymore, but she can sure as heck sit on the sofa, watch Jeopardy!, and fiddle with things like beads and pins ’til the cows come home. So you know what I did. I dragged a charcoal grill over plus the electric ice cream maker and a bunch of groceries, and got started. I sent the kids up to the attic to fetch all that ornament stuff down and arrange it all around her. I made grilled burgers galore–some for now, some for the freezer–I made fresh peach ice cream and crispy-bottomed cornbread–ditto–and I don’t even know how much okra I fried all told, but we nibbled on it throughout the day for three straight days. I cleaned out her deep freeze and stocked it further with beef and vegetable soup, BBQ, gumbo, and individual servings of double chocolate torte. I even brought her some organic, grass-fed buttermilk, which I had to special order. Her job was to behave and make me ornaments.

    I have about four dozen of those beauties on my tree right now.

    1. Best ornament story EVER.

      Lovely new reader!

      That is brilliant.

      And it’s just wrong that no one thinks to bring proper southern ladies cheeseburgers!

      You did a GREAT kindness.

      And now I really really want a cheeseburger.

      Like, crazy want.

    1. Yes, they’re better in chorus.

      Individually I can only think about all the things they could do that I can’t.

      I bet they could use hatchets too.

      Himself no longer allows me to close to sharp tools.


  12. Those are beautiful! I love them.
    And I met my great-grandparents once. I think. I’m not sure which they were.

    My daughter did get to know my Gramma, she had the great grandchildren call her GG, for great gramma.

    1. GG is a totally cute name for a Great Grandmother.

      And my mom wanted to be “Nina” too, when I had children.

      But it’s still a little hard for me to get used to. When my son says, “Nina” I look for my great-grandmother.

  13. ack! I LOVE those ornaments! I love the story you have told! I love LOVE the blog world right now with all the traditions and beauty! This makes me love the season even more.

    happy sighs….

    And yes, the women who came before you? Would be VERY VERY proud.

    1. You are very very lovely to say so, sweet lady.

      I hope they would be proud. I do different things than they did, challenging things. Just challenging in a very different way.

      But I hope they would be proud.

  14. Cute story! I love your Nona’s ornaments.

    I treasure the ornaments my Grandmother made for me. But they never talk to me. I can’t believe I’m the unpopular girl even with ornaments.

    1. I hope they would be proud. As I told another commenter, many of the things we do are hard, just very different from what they had to do.

      And with less manure, typically.

  15. That was a very cool post Lori. It’s so true that previous generations were a lot tougher than we are today.We have it so good now cause of their hard work. I think it’s awesome that the ornaments remind you of what they stood for and that they love you.

  16. Lori – that was beautiful. Those you have honored on your posts are lucky individuals to be the recipents of your humor and your praise. It is easy for some people to to be funny or thoughtful, but it is difficult to blend them together.

    Thank God my ornaments don’t talk to me, that would be too much noise with all of the other voices in my head!

    1. That’s a lovely compliment, dear one. Thank you.

      And it has to be really, really quiet in order to hear them.

      Like, get the three teenagers out of the house sort of quiet.

  17. You are never going to believe this, but my mom grew up with ornaments like that and then when my grandma died, our family tree got all those ornaments. I need to ask her where they came from. I think her dad’s side??

  18. These are beautiful, as are the sentiments you hear when they are speaking to you. I mean when they speak together, not the whispering behind your back that they do on their own.

    My MIL has lots of these kind of old ornametnts made by the elders of their tribe, and I am always in awe that they could make them without sticking the heck out of their fingers.

  19. Oh my goodness – I have those ornaments! My great-aunt Margaret made them and ever since I was little I have adored each and every one! I’ve always planned on getting a special tree to hang just them on – a necessity since I’m the only member of my family who doesn’t think they’re incredibly tacky!

  20. Oh, now that is just spo0ky!

    First of all – great post. Wonderful.

    Second – there’s a box of oraments somewhere at my parents’ house that looks JUST LIKE THESE! My mother made them when she was newly married and couldn’t afford to buy the store-bought kind. They were avocado green and cream with gold rick rack and pearls. I wish I knew where they were…

    Thanks for bringing back a happy memory of my childhood…

  21. Love it!! Fantastic post, as usual. Those are incredible works of art. I think of the afghans my grandmother knitted or the clothes my mom sewed for us and the most I do for my kids is fabric glue the loop back on their stocking. So many lost arts these days.

    1. Ok, come one now…I bet you’ve used the duct tape on falling apart tennis shoes AND gotten a pill down a dog without losing an arm.

      See? We are She-Women!



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