The first Christmas that my husband and I were living together we were poor college students. We weren't planning on getting a tree because: 1) We had no money to buy a tree, and 2) We had no decorations to put on the tree.
Even though we had nothing I count those as some of the happiest times of my life.
Christmas Eve we went into a drug store and they gave us a free plastic Christmas tree ornament with our purchase of gum, or cigarettes, or condoms, whatever it was we were buying in a drug store on Christmas Eve. It was a tacky little Santa ornament, emblazoned with the store name on it. Not something I ever dreamed would become a cherished item.
On the way back to our apartment we stopped on a whim and bought a $5 Christmas tree from a man who just wanted to get rid of the last few he had at his lot. We went home and we hung our lone ornament on it. I can't recall how we stood the tree up, I know we didn't have a fancy tree stand. Maybe we just leaned it into the corner.
And I suppose that isn't what is important. Just like I can't really remember what it was like to alternate eating pasta or rice for dinner every night. Or what it was like to pay rent and other bills and have only $5 left in my pocket to last the week. Memories are funny like that. The edges of the hard times are softened, the bright spots shine even brighter with each passing year.
My husband says I like to romanticize the past. Sure we were happy, he says, but no happier than we are now.
Maybe. But I know that each year when we unwrap the tacky plastic Santa ornament he is excited to see it again. And each year the children ask us about it. And each year we tell the story of the beginning of us.
"You see, way before any of you were born, there was just the two of us..."
I look around at my children gathered around the tree, each one so precious to me. Maybe the reason I count that Christmas as the happiest of my life is because I can see from my vantage point now where it was leading.