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Paid in Full

Ginny and I drove to the storage shed. I smiled the whole way. We were going to get our Christmas tree and decorations. For the first time in two years, we’d have our own tree up for Christmas.

I opened the lock, slid the door up, and looked over the sea of boxes. “I know we stacked them all together,” I said to Ginny.

Ginny pointed to the right. “I think they’re against that wall.”

I worked my way around several boxes and a credenza covered with a blanket.

There was the box with the tree. Stacked on top and on each side were the boxes of ornaments. We piled it all in our daughter’s van and took it home.

It took four hours of work to assemble the tree. The next day I spent another six hours to decorate it. Ginny leaves me alone. This is my labor of love. As I decorated, our cat, who hardly plays, ran around the room like an excited child. Perhaps she sensed a bit of normalcy in her new home.

I finished the tree, put the boxes away, vacuumed the room, and sat down to enjoy my memories. Thirty minutes later, the two younger boys came home from school. They came to my room. I heard them catch their breath as they came to a stop. They stared in awe of my beautiful creation.

They came closer and admired my ornaments. It had been years since they last saw them. They were quite small then. The youngest is six. He’s my Benny. “Poppa, why did you put this one here? Is this the littlest one? I think I see the biggest one.” He had thirty minutes of questions. The other, Josh, was quiet as he looked at every ornament I have. I showed them the special memory ones: my old Santa Clause, the brass bell, the little wooden ones, and the one with my son’s name on it.

The oldest boy was busy and came to see the tree later. He was in trouble because of his report card and didn’t show much excitement.

They left the room. A little later, little Elizabeth got up from her nap. I heard her coming through the kitchen. She turned the corner to our room. There it was again, that same catching of breath. She came around the sofa and stood in front of the tree. Her little eyes twinkled with reflected lights. She walked around the base of the tree, marveling at the pretty ornaments.

She came back to the room an hour later. “Poppa, your tree is different.”

“Yes it is.” I said. Her parent’s tree is smaller and sparsely decorated in the fashion of most couples starting out. “But, do you like it, Elizabeth?”

“I do!” she said and placed her left hand on her hip and her right index finger to her lip in concentration. “I think there is something missing.”

I looked at the tree. What could a three-year-old see missing on my masterpiece?

“Really? What’s missing, Elizabeth? I thought I had everything on there.”

She turned, pointed at me and said, “Ha! Ha! Poppa! I got you!”

She’s three? You could have fooled me.

Later, I sat there picturing her pointing at me and saying, “Ha! Ha! I got you, Poppa!” and laughed.

The two days of work were worth it. The smile of a child—paid in full.

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