Della counted the money again. And a second time. And a third time. The total, sadly, remained the same — eighteen dollars and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

This was cause for a good cry, so Della had one. When she was done, she looked around the house. It had seemed like such a good deal when she and Jim had bought it — the house on the other side of the lake, as they had laughed about it at the time. Such a step up from their lower Greenville Avenue apartment, with its gas floor heaters and drafty windows and front door that didn’t quite close when it rained too much or too little.

But they had maxed out their credit cards to buy furniture for the house. And the taxes had been more than they had expected. And the mortgage: Oh, the mortgage, with its adjustable rate and its pages and pages of clauses and sub-paragraphs that everyone told them not to worry about because the house was such a good deal, and who had ever heard of a house on the other side of the lake losing value? Which, of course, had happened, and each month, when Jim made the payment to the bank on the corner of Greenville and Lovers that wasn’t there any more, the sweet, wonderful look that was always on his face disappeared.

And even with all of that, things might have been OK. But Della lost her job when her company had closed in the spring, and Jim’s salary had been cut twice as his company struggled to stay in business. Which meant that eighteen dollars and eighty-seven cents was going to have to suffice for a present for Jim. And then she remembered the sweet, wonderful look that disappeared every time he paid the mortgage, and she knew that eighteen dollars and eighty-seven cents was not enough.

Now, Della and Jim had two possessions that they took great pride in. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s, grandfather’s, and his grandfather’s father’s. The other was Della’s silverware, passed down to her from her grandmother’s mother. In fact, they were more than possessions; they were something that connected them to their families when time and death had severed almost every other connection.

And then, if Jim had been in the room, he would have seen a sparkle on Della’s face that not been there in a while. She went to the closet, pulled out the box and took out the silverware. She had seen the ads on TV — “We buy gold and jewelry” — so often that she had almost forgotten about them. Della would sell the silverware to the company with the TV ads, and though it was missing a couple of spoons, it would more than pay for Jim’s present. And she knew exactly what that would be: a platinum fob chain for the watch. She had seen it in a window at NorthPark, and he had wanted it as long as she had known him.

By early afternoon, the deed was done. The only catch was that Della would not be able to use the silverware for what had become an annual tradition — Christmas Eve dinner where they exchanged presents. No matter. The everyday stuff would do.

Jim got home at the appointed time and saw the table set with the everyday silverware. “The silverware, Della, what happened to the silverware?” he asked. She told him the story.

Jim sighed, took a package out of his pocket. “If you’ll unwrap this,” he said, “you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

Della opened the package. In it were the two missing spoons. She started crying. Jim hugged her.

“Open your present, at least,” she said. He did, smiled again. “Della,” he said, “let’s put our Christmas presents away for a while. They’re too nice to use just at moment. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your spoons.”

And then he hugged her and she hugged him back — which may have been the best gift of all.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.