But since she has passed, which was over a decade ago, there’s been a slow shift in the family. For some reason we all refer to her as Esther now. Whenever a memory comes up, we talk about what Esther did or what Esther said. Those moments aren’t planned, but every year there is one conversation that happens so regularly you could set a clock by it. Every Christmas we talk about Esther’s macrame plant hanger collection.
Esther never set out to have a collection of macrame plant hangers. In fact, all evidence indicates she could have gone her whole life without seeing a single one and been just fine.
But nevertheless, there was one Christmas when Esther unwrapped five of them.
As the story goes, when she unwrapped the first box, she smiled as she examined the knotted yarn, stretching out the full length of it while someone explained that it’s intended to hang from the ceiling and hold a potted plant inside.
And can’t so many of us imagine what Esther was feeling? There’s always that twinge of excitement when you take in hand a present that is wrapped just for you. But then to open it and find it’s actually the last thing you ever would have wanted and to feel that excitement drop straight to the basement and become disappointment. Hopefully not many of us can relate to what Esther felt next as she unwrapped her second macrame plant hanger, then her third, fourth and fifth.
I have asked, multiple times, my parents as well as my aunts and uncles, what all of them were thinking. It seems too much to believe that everyone would have given Esther a plant hanger without realizing the other people were too. But the answer I get is always the same — plant hangers were popular, she was a tough woman to shop for, and they really thought she might love one. And who knows, maybe they were right. Maybe she would have loved one, but she definitely didn’t love five.
The way the story goes, when she opened the third box she asked if someone was joking, but no one was. By the fourth she had decided to turn it into her own joke. And on the fifth she laughed so hard she had to leave the room to catch her breath.
No one ever saw a single one of those plant hangers in use. I don’t know what she did with them, but I have imagined it many times. My favorite scenario is my grandmother, the morning after everyone finally cleared out of her house, sitting at her kitchen table with her coffee and a cigarette, just looking at the plant hangers piled up in the corner and then starting to laugh all over again. Not to make others feel better. Not to save face for herself. But because she would have been able to see the humor in a world that was completely out of her control — in a life where you might not get what you want but the last thing you’re going to do is let that define how you live. Then I like to think that she hauled those hangers to the outside trash can and unceremoniously tossed them all in. They were a disappointment, yes. But it was a new day.
Just like how right now, for all of us, it’s a brand new year.