While sitting in my daughter’s house this past week, I noticed her Christmas tree—sparsely decorated with two dishtowels where a tree skirt should be. It quickly took me back in time to my second Christmas with my husband. We were married in early July and had our first child, Camille, in April. In the fall, my husband quit his job to attend graduate school, and we lived off a student loan and what I could make selling Tupperware.
Going back to school necessitated moving into a less expensive apartment. We found a duplex, set back from the road and nestled in a grove of trees. It had a bright, cheery, orange door, but once inside, the apartment lost most of its charm. Green was everywhere. The sea foam green walls were devoid of artwork and emanating from the forest green, shag carpet was a musty, tobacco smell. The kitchen linoleum was so worn it was difficult to determine its original color, but the green walls, olive green appliances and dark brown cupboards gave the room a dreary and depressing appearance.
Beyond the kitchen was the laundry room, where we placed our daughter’s crib, and directly across from it was our bedroom. Next to the bedroom, in stark contrast to the rest of the apartment, was a bright, yellow bathroom from which we could easily hear the neighbor’s conversations drifting through the vents.
We filled the kitchen cupboards with cans of turkey chunks from the church cannery (a gift from my sister) and the freezer with hamburger meat purchased on sale from the butcher. We placed our worn, and I am sorry to say, green sofa along the wall that separated the kitchen from the living room and across from it we put our oak rocking chair, which was on loan from my parents. I walked from the bathroom to the kitchen and around to the living room and sat down on the floor. Looking around the apartment I realized there was no longer any use denying it. We were poor.
Fall turned to winter and the bright colored leaves lay slumbering on the ground under a blanket of snow. It was December, and while the outside world bustled about preparing for Christmas, I was in bed recovering from surgery. Then came a knock at our front door. First entered my neighbor Melinda, followed by her husband Kevin, arms laden with simmering hot casserole dishes and freshly baked rolls. Next came our neighbors Doug and Linda, returning our laundry smelling freshly washed and looking neatly pressed.
As we gathered in the living room to visit, I looked around, silently absorbing the scene before me. Dominating the room was our Christmas tree; a poor, scraggly, little thing propped up rather unceremoniously in an empty ice cream bucket and supported by river rock. Its spindly branches were draped with silver, metallic icicles in an effort to disguise the sparseness of their needles. I sat next to the tree in the rocking chair, rocking my baby, now eight months old. My husband sat cross-legged next to me on the floor and our four guests, who were providently thin, scrunched in next to each other on the couch. I could hear sweet musical laughter as stories were shared. I could smell the aroma of freshly baked bread in the kitchen begging for my attention, and I could see the Christmas tree lights twinkling next to me. I felt the warmth in the room, first on my skin and then deep down in my soul. Suddenly it hit me. We were rich.
Life has changed much since then. We moved to Arizona, added four more children to our family and our worldly possessions increased. And yet many years later, we still count as our greatest blessings---and hence the source of our greatest wealth---family members and good friends who have brought such great joy, and richness. . . to our journey.