Della sat back on her heels and surveyed the tree. The servants had found an enormous one this year. Its candle-laden boughs nearly brushed the ceiling of the foyer.
She stood, sighing. How different Christmas had become since that first one in their little flat, when Jim hadn’t had a pair of gloves and they cried together over their useless, heartfelt gifts. Della gently touched the tortoiseshell combs on her hair. They were still her favorite.
Her hair had grown long again, just as she had promised Jim it would. With his first windfall, she had bought him another watch, this one with his name engraved along the side — his full name for extra grandeur: James Dillingham Young.
They had never expected the second windfall, or the third, or the others that catapulted him solidly into the upper class of New York society.
The threadbare flat was long gone, replaced by an expensive townhouse with a full staff of servants. Della’s old brown hat and coat were now an expensive mink set that she wore with pride, especially each month when Jim took her to the opera. Little Ellen loved that mink, watching with glowing eyes and a softly sagging mouth when Della went up to the nursery to say goodnight.
“Spin around, Mama,” she would crow, then gasp with soft delight. “You’re so beautiful!”
In her cradle, Baby Harriet grinned a drooly grin.
The Christmas tree was stacked high with gifts for the girls. Della knew she was spoiling them, but she couldn’t help herself. After so many years in poverty, she loved to indulge her babies.
And Jim. A new watch had replaced the one he’d sold. A shinier chain had replaced the old one, grown dull and tarnished. Last year she had even toyed with the idea of buying him a new automobile, but that seemed a little excessive. In the meantime, he spent months planning the jewelry and clothes she would find waiting for her on Christmas morning.
Their Christmas dinner would include ten courses and twenty guests. How different from the meager dinner they’d had that first year, when they could barely afford meat, much less chicken a la reine.
And yet Della felt oddly deflated as she looked at the glowing Christmas tree with its heaps of gifts. Somehow, no Christmas, no matter how festively opulent, could come close to the happiness of that first impoverished December of their marriage.
Jim’s arms softly encircled her shoulders. “Are you all right?”
“I just sometimes feel lonely around Christmas. I miss our little flat.” Della smiled. “Is that ridiculous?”
“No,” he said. “I just hope you’re happy.”
“I am happy now.” She sighed. “I was happy then. It’s not that Christmas isn’t happy anymore.”
“No,” said Jim. “There’s just more in the way.”
And he brushed her long hair over her shoulder as they stared up at the candlelight of the tree.