“Finished,” I said brightly. “Packed up, put away. Look at me, being all productive on a chilly Sunday.” 

I was talking to Stan on the couch behind me, but still looking at our naked Christmas tree, having officially “undecked” our halls. 

I stood proudly, hands on my hips, perhaps excessively proud of this very minor accomplishment. Then Stan spoke.

“Hey, Martha Stewart, you missed one,” he said wryly, after barely glancing at the tree.

“Dammit,” I replied. “I did not. Where? I looked at the thing 14 times. I got ’em all.”

“OK, your call,” Stan said, turning back to whatever football game was admittedly more interesting than the ongoing conversation.

“Are you being serious? You’re screwing with me. You just wanna see how long I’ll paw through the Christmas tree looking for nonexistent ornaments. Show me where; which one is — wait, found it!” I exclaimed, again with more celebration than the situation deserved.

Holding the small candy cane ornament, I looked over at the three Rubbermaid bins that hold our holiday decorations. They were all packed, sealed and stacked neatly, awaiting Stan’s next trip to the laundry room storage space.

“Eh…,” I said, having completely lost interest in my project. “I can live without it. You? It didn’t come from anyone we know, did it?”

It hadn’t. Thus it was jettisoned from our lives forever. 

This is how the holidays typically end at our house. We control our ornament population through attrition — and careless oversight on my part.

 I meticulously undress the Christmas tree a week or so into the new year, sending each ornament into its tissue-paper slumber for another 11 months. 

Then, without fail, Stan spots a stowaway ornament (or two) while hauling the tree to the curb. Actually, wait, that prior statement is a lie. I do very few things “meticulously.” In fact, my Christmas disassembly occurs haphazardly at best.

But still … how does this happen, and every freakin’ year?

I really did look at the damn drying-out tree 14 times, searching its boughs for stray glass bulbs, blown-glass baubles, hand painted treasures from Stan’s mom, or the “Our First Christmas” ornament my mom gave us when we got married in 2010. (And no, I would never part with any of those, no matter how packed away everything was. Geez, I’m not an animal.)

I had indeed checked the tree repeatedly. And there were no empty cavities in those ancient Christmas ball boxes. You know the ones, with their clear plastic covers either shredded or long gone, and the slide-out inserts that look like plastic cupcake tins. They always contain a few errant pine needles from Christmas past, plus some crudely bent paper clips or other improvised hooks made from little rings of tied ribbon, or, in our household, fishing line.

Ah, the detritus of holiday decor. It’s always a bit depressing to undo it all. 

But it’s great to have the living room back together — and I’m sure I’ll stop stepping on stray pine needles sometime before Fourth of July.

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