21 December 2010

The Old Tomato Wreath




Ten years ago I lived upstairs from The Old Tomato. Her real name was something like Veronica Pommerossi or Verachi Pomodesa or Villanova Panchinelli...whatever it was, it sounded like vecchio pomodoro, which roughly translates from Italian into old tomato. It was an acuarte description too --she was wrinkled and acidic, small and round, squishy and strangely sweet like a roma tomato that had been left out in the sun.

Her tan was impressive. All summer long she could be found in front of the building, sitting in a folding lawn chair and listening to Frank Sinatra on her portable radio. She didn't speak much English but managed to express disgust and/or worldly advice at nearly every passing person. Teenage boys would walk by wearing baggy jeans and she would yell Why you don't put pants on your ass? You try to catch you the raccoon? Put pants on your ass and you catch TWO raccoons!

Raccoons?

One time there was a string of robberies in the building next door and she took to sitting on the stoop waving a giant metal spoon at every suspicious person who past the building. I sort of wondered what she would do with the giant spoon, but alas, the opportunity never arose, as the robberies stopped. We took to calling her The Old Tomato: Crime Fighter at Large.

Sadly, the summer passed and so did she. Shortly after Halloween The Old Tomato suffered a massive stroke and died a few days later. Her family came and cleared out a few prized possessions then hired a flock of teenage boys to clear out the rest of her belongings and set them by the dumpster. It was a sad sight: her whole life in boxes laid out in an alley, discarded by raccoon chasing boys in baggy pants.

One of them saw me walking up the stairs and said Hey lady, want some Christmas stuff? I don't feel right putting Jesus in the garbage, and handed me a box the size of a stove, filled with ornaments and wax evergreens.

It was her Christmas box. How could I say no?

Now, it's not like I needed a bunch of funky Seventies Christmas stuff, even back then. In fact, I didn't even keep a Christmas tree in those days. It just broke my heart to think of throwing it away. The box sat in a closet with the water heater for years.

One day the water heater broke and the repair man came in and moved the box, tipping it over and the contents fell out. Instead of apologizing, you know what he did?  He made fun of me. He said I was hoarding someone else's memories. He said I should get rid of the box.

Perhaps he had a point. Perhaps he should have kept his mouth shut. I 'm not sure, but I got so crazy defensive that I became determined to take every single one of those ornaments out of the box and put them on display. Good bad, ugly, broken down, I was going to take them out and let them shine.  I still didn't have a tree at that time so I settled on clustering them together and tying them onto a wreath. It's like a whole Christmas tree clustered together in a single circle.

I love it.

There are glass balls and satin bells and needle point poinsettias...gold bows and green icicles....even a one-eyed angel. Why, the only thing missing is a raccoon.

The other two smaller wreaths have specific affiliations too; the one on the left is made from candy I picked up on a wonderful vacation, and the one on the right is made from ornaments on a tree that used to be on display at a previous job. There are more scattered around the house. My goal is to make one wreath a year, affiliated with one person or place or event.  They are accumulating quickly.

I'm still deciding what this year's wreath will be. I'll have to clean my cupboards out after Christmas and see what comes out to play. It's a good post-Christmas pre-New years activity.

I'll keep you posted ;)

20 comments:

  1. It's lovely to think that someone's precious memories can be recycled and become precious to another.

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  2. I love the story and really it's my favorite christmas wreath I've seen yet on the web, yes even compared to all the chic modern ones--I like this one, it just LOOKS like christmas. Can't wait to see what your wreath for this year will look like!

    xo Mary Jo

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  3. Love the story and you've made a great wreath with the ornaments!

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  4. With just a few choice words, you really created a vivid image in my mind of the Old Tomato. I love this post! More stories, please.

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  5. This story is *fantastic*. Both the story itself and the telling. Fantastic. (My very favorite line is that one word paragraph: Raccoons? So funny.)

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  6. Ooh, the Old Tomato wreath is so lush and just, just, just somehow so classic! What a sweet sweet idea to cluster unwanted bits of someone else's Christmas into a wreath. You have distilled one specific Christmas down into one amazing thing. Yes, you must do it every year!

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  7. What a cute story, and no you just cannot put Jesus in the garbage! I am always finding pictures of Jesus behind other pictures and now they are hanging all over my garage, you can't donate him either!

    Carol

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  8. The line about putting Jesus in the garbage made me laugh so hard I ended up reading the whole thing aloud to my bf. And I love that candy wreath!! I am not a holiday person but christmas reminds me of one of my grandmothers and I do love decorations. Now I want to make a candy wreath and give them as presents. I made one out of magazine papers - http://crawlsontheceiling.blogspot.com/2010/12/getting-in-spirit.html

    maybe you can do that if you haven't already? If I did it again, I'd put glitter all over the pages before crinkling.

    xo
    danielle

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  9. I LOVE this idea of Christmas on a wreath!!! My neighbor and I didn't want to put up a tree this year, so now maybe I can work together with her to create a memory wreath and have it ready for next year! GREAT idea. I think she might go for it. I'm sure she has a box of ornaments that will bring back those memories and I sure do.

    Love the story as always, Aunt Peaches.

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  10. Peaches,
    I love your generous, creative heart1
    Merry Christmas.
    Old Tomato is waving her big ole spoon at you from Heaven- in a good way!

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  11. Yeah... thre is stuff you just can't bin. This is a piece of art shaped like a wreath, and I, too, think that a big spoon might be wielded in haven right now :) I just studied up: the word wield comes from norse "valda" for "being strong". Curious.

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  12. Heaven, for crying out loud. HEAVEN! Haven? Is this my last comment about not doing religion turning 'round to bite my backside?

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  13. What a wonderful story!!! ...and that wreath is absolutely delightful and slap full of charm! Thank you so very much for sharing them both. ...also, I love the idea of making a wreath with pretties from a special trip or event.

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  14. I love the story and the wreath! Such a sweet sentiment. I made a wreath of some of my mother's Christmas collection. I haven't hung it in a few years, but it's good to have them in some sort of order. Glad I found your blog!

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  15. It's always a treat to get a story from you! I'm also admiring the book pages behind the wreaths. I want to see and hear more about that!

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  16. Melt my heart. What a wonderful, wonderful story. Great storytelling. And LOVE the idea of creating a wreath to mark each year... think I'll have to adopt the tradition since I inadvertently started this year with my Tram Ticket wreath!

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  17. I would like to be best friends with this post.

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  18. You have a wonderful way with words. She would feel proud to see how you have kept her memory alive with the wreath and the essay. So glad I found your blog!

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-AP

 
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