Every family has something of this sort, some object with no value whatsoever but for its sentimentality. And yet it's the type of thing you keep forever, one of the most important objects you own.
In our case, it's Dad's duck.
Back when he was born in 1924, I can imagine my grandmother buying this little plastic object. It was wingless but for paint but now, 88 years later, it's still got two legs, held to the body by thin strings. It doesn't sit there on a flat bottom but wobbles on a rounded one. The bill is long gone. A piece of tape covers a crack on its left foot. I wouldn't know it was a duck but for the tiny tail. Was it meant to be used in a bathtub?
And yet through the years, the plastic duck somehow took on the unlikely tradition of Christmas tree ornament. Each year, the duck would go into the branches of my grandparent's tree and then, when Dad married, it followed him along to his new household.
When I first saw the duck, it was probably for my first Christmas in 1949. I'm sure I didn't think much of it. For its decorating value, I still don't.
But every year, when we decorate our Christmas tree, the very first ornament I think of is Dad's duck. It looks sad, all worn out and falling apart as it is, and yet it is the most important ornament we have. We have nothing we hold in higher esteem than this dilapidated piece of plastic.
In two days, Dad will have been gone for a year and a half. So the ornament now serves as an important link to him. I'd forget decorating for Christmas if it were left up to me. But this morning Mom opened the trunk and began pulling all the decorations out. She can't let it be. She has to decorate for Christmas.
All I really cared about was Dad's duck. I placed it carefully at the base of the tree (we used to use it at the very peak of our real trees). It wouldn't seem like Christmas without it.
And without Dad, it still won't.