100. The Treasure Hunt

100. The Treasure Hunt

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

The Treasure Hunt

A great spouse loves you exactly as you are. An extraordinary spouse helps you grow; inspires you to be, do and give your very best.

~Fawn Weaver

I still went through the motions. Turned on the tree lights and the Christmas music. Tried to find some of that old Christmas morning magic. But, of course, it wasn’t the same. The kids and the grandkids were grown and gone, scattered from one coast to the other. No one made it home for Christmas. Or rather, not to our home. We’d been invited to join some other family members but traveling during the holidays was such a bother. So Paul and I just stayed home.

We slept in on Christmas mornings now. No more getting up at five a.m. We wandered downstairs a little after nine. He got his coffee, I got my tea, and we went in to sit by the tree. There were only a few packages to open. A couple of the kids ordered something online and had it shipped directly. We opened those as they arrived. Most just sent gift cards. It was easier and they knew we really didn’t need anything.

I pulled out the boxes one by one and we took turns opening them. The usual gifts — a sweater I’d admired at the mall, his season pass to the golf course, the latest book by my favorite author — and then we were done. I was gathering up the torn wrapping paper when I caught Paul watching me with an odd expression.

“You missed something,” he told me.

“I don’t think so.” I leaned down and looked under the tree. Nothing but the red plaid tree skirt.

“Not under the tree.” He pointed higher, to a branch about halfway up. There was a small white envelope that read “Lin — 1 of 5.”

A treasure hunt. We used to do them for the kids, clues scattered around the house that would lead them to some gift that was too big to fit under the tree or maybe something extra special, or even just to get them over that “no more presents to open” let-down when they were young.

I stood up and retrieved the envelope. What would have prompted him to do this? I opened it and read the clue.

Seek your second clue under our very first treasure.

Our very first treasure? How am I supposed to remember? Oh. Our first treasure hunt. It was our first year together. Newlyweds and poor as church mice, I had fallen in love with a painting at a local gallery, something we could not afford but my silly husband had bought for me anyway. He’d led me by clues stashed all over our tiny apartment to the back of the closet where he’d hidden it the day before. It had been the showpiece of our living room; now it hung in the unused guest room, pretty much forgotten. I felt a sharp twinge of regret as I eased the second envelope from under its frame.

I was gone so long and how you welcomed me back.

Gone so long? He must mean that year his job took him out of the country. Thirteen months. The kids and I decided to save his separation bonus and add to it all year, sacrificing Friday night pizza and movies and special treats, so we could surprise him when he came home. I remember that weekend, walking him through the showroom, “just to look,” coaxing him to tell us the one he liked best. That beautiful full-sized pool table he had always wanted. I’d had it delivered the day before Christmas and charged the kids with making sure he didn’t go down to the basement that night.

I made my way downstairs and looked at the pool table. Green vinyl covered the orange felt. I could almost hear the sound of pool balls clacking and the kids yelling, “I call the winner.” Now it sat covered with empty boxes that waited for Christmas decorations to be packed away after New Year’s. My already sagging spirits drooped lower. What was Paul thinking? Pointing out all the things we had worked so hard for? Things we had once thought so important, that were now unused and collecting dust. I had to force myself to read the next clue.

You were so mad because I was gone on Christmas Eve. And the kids wouldn’t tell you why.

The piano. He bought it used and went to pick it up that Christmas Eve. My piano. I’d always played and I was certain I could teach the kids. I did, too. A couple of them still play. But I don’t. Not anymore. My fingers are stiff with arthritis and won’t dance over the keys like they used to. Just like the pool table, the piano sat idle. Collecting dust. All that money wasted. I felt myself getting angry. What was Paul trying to say here? Okay, so I didn’t play the piano any more. He didn’t play on his precious pool table anymore either. I picked up the next clue and ripped it open.

We bought six that year. All brand new, in different sizes and colors.

The bicycles. Oh, what a year that was. New bicycles for everyone. No hand-me-downs, with the younger boys forced to ride their older sisters’ “girl bikes.” We rode together every Sunday, all the way to the state park and back. Even when the older ones were pulling away, starting their own lives, they’d come back for our Sunday rides. I walked into the garage. Only two bikes remained, hanging from the ceiling on large orange hooks. Unused, yes, but loved in their day. And then I got it. I felt my anger slip away. I pulled the last envelope out of the spokes of a wheel.

Two full shelves. I always ask if we need them all.

My photo albums. Filling the shelves Paul built into the spare room closet for me. Our whole lives, captured and laid out, year after year. I hurried upstairs where Paul was waiting for me. I understood now what he’d been trying to show me. Not the forgotten painting or the unused pool table. Not the piano or the bikes, most of which were long gone. They were just things, and it wasn’t about things. Not at all. It was about the sacrificing, and the giving, and the sharing, and the memories. I looked at him standing there, a hint of hopefulness in his smile.

“I thought maybe we’d spend the day looking at some of these,” he offered.

I returned his smile with one brighter than I’d given him in a long time. “Let’s start with the first one,” I said. “And look at them all.”

~LD Masterson

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