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Grand Central

Dangling, with tugs at heart

By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 3, 2003

SOME ORNAMENTS are shiny and modern.

Not the pixie.

She rises each year to the fireplace mantle and keeps watch over my tree.

She must have come from an old Zayre department store. It would have been 26 years ago. I can remember, in those days and the years beyond, my mother ambling along Park Boulevard in Pinellas Park, trucks blaring past, purse at her side. Zayre was within walking distance.

Virginia Ryan was a homemaker with three kids and no driver's license. Shopping made her feel free. She would load up on bolts of fabric and Simplicity patterns, then put a dime in the pay phone and hit up my father for a ride home.

ON CHRISTMAS DAY 1976 in my first Tampa apartment, the pixie debuted.

I was a college student at USF. The doll's ears seemed as big as my Irish father's; her cheeks, chubby; and she sparkled grandly in the glow of the lights, though barely 5 inches tall.

Each year, she returned; early on, with frivolity; later, with reverence.

IT'S TIME again, isn't it? January, already.

Christmas cactuses have screamed of mothers and faded.

Time to wrap up memories in tissue and put them away for a year.

THE BEADED ANGELS came from Elizabeth Miller, the sort of woman for whom craft stores and Mickey Mouse sweat shirts were invented. So did the needlepoint ball with my name on it.

Elizabeth and her husband left Lansing once a year, beginning in the mid 1980s, to visit their daughter, my friend and housemate in a rented house on Jetton Avenue. They would join us for walks on Bayshore Boulevard and pancakes at Pach's Place.

Jack was a doctor and outdoorsman, tall with long arms practiced at hugging kids. I fancied him as a cross between Marcus Welby and Huck Finn.

They knew my own father had died and my mother was gravely ill, and so when they came they brought Christmas for two. They stayed with us for a week at a time, nesting like hamsters with wrapping paper and bows.

THE APPLES are from my first visit to New York. I had just finished college and had started at the Tribune, $190 a week in 1979, when a fellow reporter, a Vietnam vet, took on the cause of helping me plan a vacation.

He steered me to Amtrak: For $225, a traveler could visit any three cities. I chose Washington, Boston and New York, where $22 a night bought a room at the co-ed YMCA on E47th Street, not far from the United Nations.

THERE ARE several dog ornaments. One pays posthumous tribute to Barnaby, my Alaskan malamute, who cheerfully forfeited frozen tundra for a Bayshore Boulevard sidewalk and then a Hillsborough River boathouse, until he died at 9.

Another memorializes Cody, a German shepherd, collie and chow mix who found himself at the Humane Society one day and in my Palma Ceia kitchen the next, waiting for Bernaise on his chow. The union lasted a decade.

After years of self-help books, I now hang ornaments even for the living dogs.

THE LITTLE BIRDHOUSE ornament is from my neighbor Emma and her daughter Courtney, who bravely rebuilt their lives after Courtney's father died in an accident.

There are treasures from other friends: among them, hand-etched glass from a teenhood chum in 1976 and an eagle ornament from an American Indian photographer in 2001.

Some ornaments represent only a litany of after-Christmas shopping coups.

ELIZABETH died in November 2001. Jack followed her a few months ago, a day after carving the Thanksgiving turkey and leading us all in saying grace.

Their daughter and I, like plenty of others, got through the Hallmark commercials this year with deep cleansing breaths.

Perhaps you know the feeling. If so, happy, happy new year.

ONE DAY SOON the pixie will go back in the Christmas box.

So will the beaded angel.

Not just yet, though.

-- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or .

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