It takes Carol Nordengren three weeks to decorate her Christmas tree with the hundreds of prized ornaments she has collected over the years. Even then, not all fit on the tree, and it’s always a sad day when they are packed away for another year.
Nordengren, who moved to Port Washington in 1957 with her late husband Jack, has seen the decorations change from mostly nonbreakable ones while her five children were growing up to more fragile and expensive hand-blown and hand-painted glass ornaments from around the world.
Nordengren hangs big round glass ornaments inside close to the trunk with smaller ones on the ends of the branches, which gives a luminous dimension to the tree. She loves glittery ornaments that sparkle in the lights.
“They’re all my favorites,” she said, but there are certain ones that always must be on the tree.
A gold cherub angel is placed at the top.
“She’s very old,” Nordengren said. “I’ve had her for many, many years, and she’s always been on the top of the tree.”
Shortly before her family gathers for their Christmas celebration, she will hide a green pickle ornament in the tree for her nine grandchildren to find. Whoever finds the pickle gets a prize.
“It’s a different prize every year. It might be a large can of popcorn or an ornament,” Nordengren said.
Every year, she gave each of her children ornaments that they hung on the tree when they were young.
“When they all left home, they took the ornaments with them, and I had an empty tree,” Nordengren said.
That didn’t last long. Nordengren worked at the Christmas in Port shop when it was owned by Barb Persinger.
“It was like putting a kid in a candy store,” she said. “I think I bought more than I got paid.”
She has many one-of-a-kind ornaments that won’t be found in any store.
One of the first ornaments she hangs each year is an arrowhead her husband found while digging in their garden the year they moved into their house.
“He had Sharbuno’s (Jewelers in Port) put a hook on it, and we’ve used it as an ornament ever since,” Nordengren said.
Her husband, an avid fisherman, also turned a green fishing lure into an ornament. Another one of her favorites is a pair of leather boxing gloves that hang by the laces.
“The boxing gloves came with my husband,” Nordengren said. “I don’t know the story behind them.”
A wooden boot with the tongue out and sole hanging loose was hard carved by their late neighbor Bill Karsch.
“He was a wonderful woodcarver and made the boot for Jack because he helped him so much,” Nordengren said, pointing out the boot’s details, including eyelets and laces.
Three violin-playing angels with bisque heads, curly golden hair, sparkling wings and white gowns belonged to her mother.
Her mother-in-law gave her several red glass oil lamp ornaments with oil still in them.
“They were from her tree and probably are from around 1925,” Nordengren said.
Some of her ornaments came from estate and rummage sales, including a celluloid Kewpie doll she found at an estate sale.
Her husband traveled for his job, and as a couple they traveled extensively. Ornaments always came home with them to keep or give away.
A wooden Pinocchio came from Italy, a pointy-toed, elaborately decorated silk shoe from Turkey, beefeater and Buckingham Castle guards from London, dough ornaments with couples dressed in Austrian garb from Vienna and a Scandinavian Santa from Finland. The year of the trip is on each ornament.
When she moved to Port, Nordengren bought round clear plastic ornaments with pixie elves inside from the former Ben Franklin five-and-dime store in downtown Port. Those still go on the tree each year.
A red mercury-glass bird with a long neck and spun-glass tail is another valued ornament. Newer versions of the antique bird also hang on the tree, along with hand-blown glass icicles.
Nordengren bought a gold-encased holly leaf for her daughter Holly Ostermann, but decided to keep it. Ostermann looks for it each year.
Nordengren hangs some of her more ornate ornaments, including ones decorated by her mother-in-law, from wide ribbons in the archway that leads to the dining room.
“You can see the details better,” she said, noting the more fragile glass ones are hung on the inside so they don’t get bumped.
A glass bicycle with sparkling wheels has special meaning. It was a gift her mother bought when she visited Nordengren’s brother in Virginia.
“When she came home, she was clutching this little bag. It was the bicycle and it was broken,” Nordengren said. “Jack managed to glue it back together. I never told my mother it was broken.”
Her mother died that year.
Nordengren hangs the ornaments on an 8-foot-tall artificial tree with more than 1,000 lights. A real tree would dry out before she had it fully decorated, she said.
“It takes a long time to put it together. Each branch has to be put in separately,” she said. “I keep thinking about getting one that folds up, but then I wouldn’t be able to hang ornaments on the inside.”
Nordengren has a collection of Santas she displays on the landing of the staircase. Her favorite is one she got from her father-in-law — a Santa music box that plays “Silent Night” while a wobbly legged Santa dances.
Also on the stairs sits a Santa elf checking a book with her grandchildren’s names written on the nice list.
Image Information: Carol Nordengren hung a gold cherub angel at the top of the tree, a place of honor it’s held for many years. The violin-playing angel belonged to her mother. Photos by Sam Arendt