83. Forty-Nine Perfect Hearts

83. Forty-Nine Perfect Hearts

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Forty-Nine Perfect Hearts

A hundred hearts would be too few to carry all my love for you.

~Author Unknown

I pulled back the dining room chair and saw a small, wrapped present sitting atop my seat. Dinner plate in hand, I stopped short, thinking of the unwrapped gift that lay hidden away in my dresser upstairs. “Oh,” I said to my husband. “Are we doing this now? Yours isn’t ready yet.”

“Open it,” he said.

I knew what lay inside, even though I didn’t know the color, or the size, or even the material it was made of. I knew, however, that when I untied the bow, lifted the lid, and unwrapped the tissue I would find a perfect heart. An ornament for our Christmas tree.

My first heart arrived when we were newlyweds decorating a tree we had chopped down ourselves from a nearby farm. We had finished hanging the few ornaments from our blended households on its branches when Randy placed a small box in front of me.

“A present?” I squealed. “But it isn’t even Christmas yet.” He just smiled and nudged the box a little closer. I lifted the lid and gasped. A blown-glass, heart-shaped ornament with swirling colors lay inside.

“A heart for my sweetheart,” said Randy. I kissed him and found a place on the tree where we could admire the heart all season long.

The next year I decided to surprise Randy with a heart bought especially for him. Weeks in advance I started looking for the perfect ornament to take its place beside the one he gave me. Finally I chose one made of wood, something pretty yet sturdy, to last through the years. We finished decorating our tree, and I pulled the package from my pocket.

“I got something for you,” I said with a grin.

“I got something for you, too,” he answered, pushing another package my way. And so a tradition was born. Much like our new marriage, in the beginning giving the hearts was easy. With no kids, few possessions, and time on our hands, we could shop until we found the perfect heart to add to our growing collection. Then our daughters came along.

Within a few years Christmas became a whirlwind of things we had to do with shrinking amounts of time to do them in. We hit the ground running the weekend after Thanksgiving and didn’t stop until we sprawled exhausted beside a mountain of discarded wrapping paper on Christmas morning.

As our daughters grew, the rest of the year seemed to pass in a blur as well. We ferried the girls to art classes, soccer games, piano lessons, and set aside evenings to help with homework. There hardly seemed time for us as a couple; we were a family, a team of four, united in the purpose of raising girls who could take on the world.

Even so, every year Randy and I still gave each other a heart, despite feeling at times as though shopping for it was just another chore. Some years all the hearts we found looked like ones we had already given. Some years, heart-shaped ornaments were hard to find. Some years, we fought on tree-cutting day, hurling angry words at each other as we crammed one more event into our overbooked holiday schedule.

Those years, the hearts helped us put our anger aside. For how could we nurse a grudge when a tissue-wrapped heart lay waiting, a symbolic olive branch to put things in perspective?

Year after year, heart after heart, we filled our tree with ornaments of porcelain, glass, wire, raku, and wood, in colors of blue, red, green, purple, gold, silver, and swirling mixes. Each delicate piece is a reminder that though our relationship is fragile, it is also sturdy, and like the ornaments, with careful tending it will last.

Now, with our daughters in college, Randy and I once again decorate the tree on our own. We hang our favorite ornaments in prominent places, but every piece in our two-and-a-half decade collection is precious in some way, for they remind us that at the core, at the heart of things, we started out as two. And with any luck, we will face the world together as two once again long after our children go off to make lives of their own.

“You know,” I say, as I unwrap this year’s heart, a vibrant blue, blown-glass piece with a beauty separate from any that have come before it, “we’re up to forty-nine hearts. At some point, we’re going to have to quit this.”

Randy looked at me as a quiet smile made its way from his eyes to his lips. “Never,” he said. “Never.”

~Cindy Hudson

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