Love makes best gift

Our first newlywed Christmas happened in a “mansion.” (We thought.) My husband, Emmitt, had just finished his tenure in the Army. We lived in “Vetville,” rows of army barracks converted to apartments. They housed World War II veterans for $25 a month. Everyone seemed to be in the same boat … going to school on the G.I. Bill.

We had nothing materially, but had everything in riches. Being so in love and having each other made us millionaires.

We searched and searched for a Christmas tree we could afford. Finally we came home with our little $3 tree. We had nothing to trim the tree with, yet we loved that tree, and it gave us Christmas cheer.

The next day Emmitt wrote a love note before he went to class. He folded it carefully and tied it to the tree while telling me not to look at it until Christmas. “I’ll do the same thing,” I thought. I’ll write a love note and hang it on the tree to see if he notices it. He did. I wrote one each day before he came home.

We could hardly wait until Christmas as we vowed not to read them until Christmas Eve. To us our “tree ornaments” looked beautiful. We had a tree covered with love notes filled with the love in our hearts and joy in our spirits.

How well I remember one note in particular. Every Christmas I read it again: “My darling, I love you more than life itself. You are the best wife I ever had.” (I was and am the only wife he ever had.) Many years later it became the family joke around the Christmas tree.

Thus began the tradition. Little did I know we had started a legacy to reach down to our children, grandchildren and now great-grands.

Instead of love notes on the tree, I have a basket filled with each family member’s name. Everyone draws a name. We go around the circle and tell that person whose name we have how much he or she means to all of us. We tell of exceptional qualities that we see and appreciate. It’s a time of great joy. We affirm our love for each other with many tears, hugs and kisses.

The greatest joy for Emmitt and me comes later when we all gather around the glowing fireplace with hot cider and cookies. Our grown children reminisce of their growing years.

One Christmas Lane, our youngest son, said to his dad, “Do you know how proud I am having you for my dad? Can you imagine how I felt having you for my high school principal and all the kids loved you? ‘You’re a lucky guy,’ they all said! I loved you then, and I love you now.”

I can still see Lane walking across the graduation stage, reaching out to his daddy to give him a big bear hug. The crowd cheered, and I cried.

Lance, our middle son, added, “Remember all the ball games you and Mom drove miles just to see us play ball?” I framed the letter he wrote to us when he and his wife moved five hours away. He ended the letter with, “You are the greatest parents in the world.” We both cried.

Our oldest son, Mark, replied, “I will always love you, and I look forward to Jesus coming and taking us all to heaven. Then we’ll never say good-bye.”

After the children were put to bed, we talked about how Jesus touched our lives the previous year.

Before we said “Good night,” Emmitt took me in his arms and said, “Next to Jesus, you are my special gift.”

Many years have come and gone since our first little love nest. Emmitt has given me enough love to last a lifetime. He is God’s gift to me.

Vetville is gone now. Big brick university buildings have replaced it. That’s progress, but in my heart, I see Apartment 21 with that tall, dark, handsome man whispering, “I love you.”

Our first home at Christmas will always be remembered. It wasn’t much, but to us it was everything.

By the way, Emmitt still whispers, “I love you,” and I am still the best wife he ever had!