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Nana’s Clothespin Ornaments

During one of the Christmas decorating extravaganzas of my childhood, my mother must’ve thought the tree looked a little bare and so picked up this clothespin ornament from one of those “artisan” crafty stores. As far as I can remember, it was a random purchase, maybe inspired by the fact that my sister and I were taking lots of ballet classes at the time.

My Nana and Grampy spent that Christmas with us, and when Nana laid eyes on this thing, it awoke something weird inside her. You need to understand that my Nana was a fancy lady of the highest degree. She golfed, she lunched, she wore heels and lipstick until the day she passed, and she had a ridiculous nickname that all her friends called her: Mudsy! She was an excellent seamstress and knitter — the queen of gorgeous, tasteful, one-of-a-kind homemade children’s clothes and gifts. (I have the pale-pink cashmere baby hat she knitted for me, complete with one of her lovely satin “Nana” name labels sewn in, as proof.)

I’m not sure what about this in-all-honesty-fairly-tacky ornament resonated so strongly with her, but oh boy did it ever. For the rest of her life, she made a set of clothespin ornaments for each grandkid every Christmas. They took FOREVER to make. With all the fiddly little details, I think she must’ve spent all year putting them together. Some years she went with a theme, like Alice in Wonderland or Culturally Insensitive Depictions of Native Americans. Other years it was hard to tell what the unifying concept was, other than that they were all definitely a bit … odd.

My brother, sister, and I have spent many eggnogified Christmases trying to decipher exactly what the hell some of these things are supposed to be, since her original descriptions are now lost to the mists of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Nana, and I love that she spent so much time making these for us, but seriously.

A fetal pig? A cat with large shoes? My dad says it must be Piglet because we have a Tigger:

And maybe this is Pooh?

Who’s this lil ol’ gal?:

A strumpet? Mimi from the Drew Carey show? Carol? I think this is her less-grouchy strumpet friend:

Some of them are easy to ID. Like this one:

I know for a fact that this is Carmen:

And so this has to be Carmen’s bitchy friend. I don’t really remember the plot of the opera, but I’m pretty sure there was a bitchy best friend character.

And your guess is as good as mine on this guy:

He’s got an umbrella, so that narrows it down. I really hope this is Charlie Chaplin:

I mean, I’m pretty sure it is. My Nana was from Austria but not like that. Here’s the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Note the Bulova watch face. Just whatever’s lying around. Classic Nana.

Jimi Hendrix with an umbrella. Or a Cossack.

Here’s Mrs. Claus:

And here’s Santa:

But then who is this?

MOMMY WHAT HAPPENED TO SANTA CLAUS?!

There are so many, I can’t even show you all the good ones, but if you find them as folk art-fascinating as I do, I made a Flickr set so you can see the rest, if you like. Of course there are a bunch of culturally insensitive ones! She’s a Nana! But mostly, they are weird and full of love and attention to detail and remind me of what a wonderful kook my Nana was.

Audrey Ference writes for The L Magazine.

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