- Karen Terhune Duncan
Inevitably the realization about the ornament loss would hit us full weight. And it did this weekend as we hauled out Christmas decorations – things we’ve not laid eyes on in three years. Our move was what the insurance adjuster categorized as “borderline catastrophic”. A lot of our items, during the storage and subsequent move, were permanently damaged. We lost pretty much all our Christmas ornaments.
In January 2016, we listed for sale our South Orange, NJ home. That meant Christmas 2015 basically didn’t happen. At least as far as decorations. December, 2015 was spent staging and professionally photographing every room so holiday decorations were not part of the décor. We’d last had them up in December, 2014 – the year both of my parents died. That had been a difficult holiday season for me being the first without my parents. I was grieving terribly and as I was putting up our Christmas tree that year, I felt the need to photograph it in detail. Our tree was large – 10 ft and it held a vast and precious collection of ornaments from our childhoods, our parent’s collections and our - up to then - 36 years of marriage. Then I made a video about our family and close friends and the importance of memories of which so many of these ornaments represented. I would have no idea how precious that video would become.
This year in April, when our moving truck pulled into our new Savannah driveway, we were giddy with anticipation. The majority of everything we owned had been stored for a year and the rest, which we’d had in our temporary NJ apartment, was now, finally, in our site. As our moving van was being unloaded the extent of the problems began to surface. Broken TV, crushed bar stools, my vanity broken, boxes of lamps and lampshades full of mold and water, totally ruined.
Deeper into the cab were boxes floating in water; all our ski clothing, my American Girl doll and all her clothes, containers of table lines, napkins – years and years of collections. There was a part of our sectional couch crawling with wet mold. There was a box of old photo albums totally ruined with water. And then we reached for the Christmas boxes. One after another wet with mold and utterly destroyed. Boxes of ornaments floating in green water. Doug’s mothers Christmas china doll, our Puck doll, nutcrackers and display Holiday dolls, streams of garland all ruined. I was becoming unhinged with grief and total disbelief at the extent of the losses. We did our best to document what was destroyed and enlisted the help of friends to categorize and make lists. On top of trying to actually move in at the same time. What was supposed to be a joyous day, was angst ridden. We stumbled through the day.
Our mover, who was a personal friend, was devastated with what had happened. We had full replacement insurance with no deductible but we still needed to actually list and file the claim. It took me weeks to research the replacement costs, deal with their local “fix it” man who did work miracles on a lamp and Doug’s replica masted schooner. But there is no way to replace Christmas ornaments. There is a formula for financial compensation to "irreplaceable" items, but there really is no way to value. I can tell you they were fair and efficient and we were compensated financially. Doug and I are not litigious people. We did not want to end up with some court argument. We addressed our concerns fairly and were treated with respect and regret for the incident. Stuff happens. They handled their negligence with professionalism. We closed that book.
In our early months of living in Savannah we replaced what we needed and moved on knowing that at Christmas time we’d have to assess what we really wanted. This house is considerably smaller than our last home and so we could never have used that 10 ft tree and were wise to sell it when we did back in 2015. What we discovered is that we still had a small group of ornaments that had been packed in different containers. We were thrilled to discover all 8 crystal snowflakes that our dear friends the Weintraub’s had gifted us over the years. We found a package of ornaments I bought with friends in Ohio, and a group of ornaments we bought on our European trip in the summer of 2016. Last Christmas my niece Brittany and her husband Ernie gave us a few ornaments that are precious and we have a few that we’d received as gifts during our move. Last week our niece Tiffany sent us a beautiful ornament she’d found that spoke to her about us. We were over joyed with her gesture.
Those of our decorations that survived the move more than decorated this new home adequately, beautifully. It’s exhilarating to see our older things come to new life in a new home. Looking over what we had we realized we had enough ornaments to decorate a smaller, narrower tree. It’s perfectly lovely. Nothing will replace dozens of years of memories. We have accepted these new changes. New House. New Memories.
Here is the video I created of our Christmas Tree in 2014. None of these ornaments survived. (Special thanks to my college friend Sue Reynolds for the idea of this song; one that is special to her for very personal reasons.)