Column: Flash of silver in a tree starts lifelong Christmas mystery

Great Outdoors by James Murray

James Murray

Contributor

A cold winter wind was blowing outside.

It was early Christmas eve morning, 50 years ago this year. I was sitting at the kitchen table, looking out the window – at nothing in particular – alone with my thoughts I guess and glad I was warm indoors. The snow was drifting in the wind. Our whole backyard and beyond looked like a snow-white Arabian desert. The fence posts barely poked above the snow.

At first I thought it was a single leaf, still clinging onto a branch of the crabapple tree that grew in the backyard. Then I saw the flash of silver. As I looked harder, I saw it was a small silver angel shape, tied to a branch by a loop of string. I recognized it right away. It was one of my mother’s tin cookie cutters that she kept in a box in the drawer under the stove. I watched it swinging about in the wind for the longest time.

Who had put it out there, and when?

Later that day, when my father sent me to the store, I went outside and walked up to the tree to get a closer look at the cookie-cutter angel hanging there all by itself. The snow had drifted in a curve around one side of the tree. It was hard beneath my feet – enough to support my weight without breaking through. Whoever had placed it there had to have been light enough to not break through the snow, and short enough that they had tied it to one of the lower branches. But who?

Over the next few days I watched to see if anyone in my family was looking out the window at the angel in the tree. No one that I noticed. A few days after Christmas, the angel was gone. There were no footprints in the snow. Perhaps it had blown off and been buried.

One day the following spring, when the snow was gone, the grass was beginning to grow and the flowers were starting to come up, I thought about the angel. I looked around on the ground, on my hands and knees, but found nothing. Maybe a crow or magpie has absconded with it and it now sat in a place of honour in its nest. What might a baby magpie think of a tin angel?

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Over the year, that cookie-cutter angel crossed my mind a few times. More than once, when I’d seen someone’s Christmas tree set out with the garbage after Christmas, with bits of tinsel still hanging from the branches, I thought about the tin angel. The way it first caught my eye – just a small flash of silver – so many years ago.

I’ve always been sort of a sappy Christmas kind of person. I set up a tree every year in my front room. I’ve also collected Christmas ornaments for the past 50 years, too. I guess they sort of remind me of Christmases long ago when we were kids. The other night I turned the tree lights on and the room lights off. The animals (two dogs and two cats) were quite impressed. So was I. The tree really did look spectacular with all the old ornaments.

A few days before Christmas, I drove my younger sister to Chase so that we could drop off some Christmas presents for my older brother and his family. Before we got to his house, my sister asked if I would take her up to the cemetery to leave a sprig of cedar bows for our parents. While I was sitting in the vehicle waiting for her, I watched her in the rear-view mirror. I watched as she slipped something from her pocket. It was a small and silver, wrapped in Kleenex. I watched as she hung it on a branch of a nearby tree. She stood looking at it for a moment, then took it down and slipped it back into her pocket.

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