“Oh Christmas child, O-oh Christmas child,
How do you do little Christmas Child?
Old man needs your smile.”
When Tyson Howard came home, he saw his wife Leia
lying asleep on their big blue stuffed couch. Wads of tissues were on
the floor around the sofa, and the video from their Independence Day
party played in their corner entertainment center. On the screen,
several of their nieces and nephews were marching parade-style around
the backyard led by six-year-old Ruthie, who was brandishing a stick as
if it was a baton and she was a majorette. Tyson stopped the video and
looked back at this wife. He realized she had been thinking of children
again, and she cried herself to sleep.
Leia’s large body was covered with a quilt his
grandmother made for them when they were first married ten years ago.
Her long brown hair was matted with bed head. Even asleep, she was
beautiful. He–as ever–was in awe that this woman loved him and had been
married to him for so long. Tyson sometimes wondered how his wife could
find him so attractive. Granted, being six-feet tall has its
advantages, but his long torso and steadily expanding potbelly with
matching love handles made him question her every time she said “You’re
the sexiest man on the planet.”
If only my hair would stop turning gray, he thought
as he stroked his beard and mustache, I’m only 36 next month.
Peanut, their brown tabby, was perched on the back
of the couch watching over Leia. “You taking care of your mommy?” he
asked the cat. She looked up and purred her response. Tyson didn’t wake
Leia but went downstairs to his workshop in the basement. He wanted to
work on an old computer he was refurbishing for a nephew who just
started kindergarten. Thinking of their myriad of nieces and nephews,
Tyson instead went over to Leia’s corner of the basement where she set
up a sewing room. Spread out next to the machine on her sewing table,
he saw all the Christmas presents she was making: playmats for use with
Barbie dolls and Matchbox cars, a tooth fairy pillow for Leia’s godson
Francis who would soon be losing his baby teeth, a stuffed dinosaur,
and even a small kitty tent Leia was making for Peanut. Even TJ, the
son of their friend Jack–at whose house Tyson had just been watching a
football game–was going to receive a stuffed teddy bear handmade by
Leia. The siblings and friends repeatedly told the couple that they
didn’t need to give presents to the children, and Tyson and Leia always
tried to explain how much fun they had buying and making presents
because they had no children of their own upon whom to shower gifts,
Tyson wiped the tears from his eyes as he said,
“Someday, soon enough”–the phrase he and Leia repeated to themselves
every time they felt melancholy about their childlessness. Some days,
mainly holidays such as Christmas and Father’s Day, were especially
difficult. Tonight Tyson had been playing King-of-the-Mountain with
Jack’s son and having a great time, especially because Tyson’s belly
made him the perfect mountain. Then he came home to a house devoid of
the laughter of children.
Tyson and Leia wanted to be parents. However she
wanted to wait to have children until she finished the bachelor’s
degree she abandoned years ago. She wanted her degree so she could get
a better paying job. They both worked in civil service, and although
the benefits were wonderful, the pay sucked. Tyson knew and understood
her reasons: working full-time and going to school part-time while
still dealing with the regular challenges of daily life was difficult
enough for Leia. Being a mother certainly would add too much stress to her overburdened
schedule. Besides, they couldn’t afford tuition and kids at the same
time. Their financial advisor was working on a plan to help them, but
still... Tyson agreed with Leia’s choice, but he felt a void in his
life that only children could fill.
“Meow?” Peanut had followed Tyson downstairs. She
rubbed against his legs and purred. Tyson constantly was amazed at his
cat’s ability to know when he needed comforting. He cradled her in his
arms like a baby and rubbed her belly. Peanut purred her
appreciation. He set the cat down and sat at his work bench. A
hard drive was next to his tool kit, and an old CD-ROM was next to
that. The case stood empty on the floor. Wires sprawled like grape
vines. My nephew’s gonna love this computer, he thought, as soon as I finish it. After Tyson
installed the motherboard, Leia came downstairs. “I didn’t hear you
“I didn’t want to wake my Princess.” Tyson
affectionately called Leia ‘princess.’ Leia loved her name until Star
Wars was released; then she wanted to curse George Lucas the
way he cursed her.
“How was the game?”
“Good. Cleveland won.”
“Really? Wow. How’s Jack et al?”
“They’re fine. Kay’s pregnant and due in March.”
“Someday soon enough.” Tyson stood to hug Leia. He
knew she was sad, so he tried to change the subject. “How was your nap?”
“I had a nice dream. We were picnicking in the park:
you, me, and a baby girl, Ann.”
“You still wish for a girl when I keep telling you
we’ll only have boys,” he teased. “Only one girl per generation in my
family, and my brother Nick already has a daughter.”
“This was my dream, okay?” Leia smiled. “Ann had
just learned to walk, so she was waddling around the park, and you were
right behind her. You kept saying, ‘I’m gonna get you; I’m gonna get
you.’ and Ann was laughing.” Leia started to cry, “She was so happy.
Then I woke up.” She wiped her tears. “Peanut was on the back of the
couch when I fell asleep, but she wasn’t there when I woke up, so I
came looking for her.”
“She’s on her blanket.” Tyson pointed to Leia’s
corner where a piece of fleece she bought for sewing was folded on top
of a large plastic storage box. Peanut had absconded the soft fabric
for herself. Leia walked over to the box and affectionately petted the
circle of fur that was their cat. Tyson and Leia worked on their
respective projects in silence during the rest of the evening. Even
Peanut slept quietly on her blanket.
In early September, Leia and Tyson met with Walter,
their financial advisor. Like any member of the financial profession,
Walter was impeccably dressed: his silver gray suit was tailored so the
shoulder seams were directly on the shoulders. His sandy brown hair was
cut short and he wore simple glasses with wire frames. Walter presented
Leia and Tyson with a financial outlook binder to help the couple
achieve their three goals for the future: car, house, and children. The
book wasn’t huge, just a standard two-inch thick three-ring binder-if
you consider padding and a leather-like finish standard. The name of
Walter’s firm was embossed in gold letters on the cover and spine.
Tyson started to leaf through it as Walter described the various
sections: retirement, life insurance, disability insurance, spending
habits, debt reduction, future goals and suggestions.
“Of course, as your financial situation changes, the
information here will need to be updated and recalculated. This report
presents a few concerns: 1. Life insurance: you don’t have enough. 2.
Disability insurance, the same. 3. Savings, you have a good start, but
you need to add more to have at least three months worth of living
expenses just in case. And finally, 4. debt reduction. I know you want
children, but you have $13,000 in credit card debt. You really should
eliminate this debt before you have a family. I know from experience how expensive
kids can be.” Walter pointed to a photo on his desk of his pre-teenaged
son with the same sandy-colored hair. “Granted, I’m just presenting the
cold, hard facts. The emotional considerations are someone else’s
Tyson asked. “Is there any good news?”
“You have an excellent start on your retirement
account. Since you started it in 1994, it has grown to almost $24,000.
Last year when the interest rates dropped, you refinanced your house,
which was a wise move because you will save thousands in the long run,
as well as smaller payments now. You may want to add more to your
retirement account and especially to your savings account from this
refinance, and of course, after you pay off your debts.”
When they were driving back to work after the
meeting, Tyson asked Leia, “What are you thinking about?”
“My brother once told me, ‘If you wait to have kids
until you can afford them, you’ll never have kids.’”
“Maybe, but bringing a child into the world of our
finances wouldn’t be fair, would it?”
“No. Life isn’t fair.” She let out a small chuckle,
“anyone who says so is trying to sell you something.”
Tyson looked at her with a raised eyebrow.
“William Goldman. It’s from The Princess Bride. I guess
Walter’s not trying to sell us anything. He just did the job we asked
him to do.”
Leia sounded resolved, but Tyson knew what was going
through her mind. He thought about it all the way back to his office.
He booted up his computer and checked his e-mail. A message with the subject line
“You’ve Won Third Prize!” caught his eye, and he opened it.
“Congratulations!” the message read, “Your friend
Jack has entered your name along with his in our contest. While you
didn’t win the $1,000,000 grand prize, you did win the $25,000 third
prize! Please go to the following website to tell us where to mail the
check. Please include the prize verification number 9035768.”
Tyson knew what to look for in a bogus e-mail, but
this one looked legitimate. It didn’t ask him for any money, and the
company’s name and contact information was displayed at the bottom of
the letter, so he clicked on the link. If he really won $25,000, they
could pay off their debts and not have to worry about postponing
The web page asked for the verification number, his
name, address, home phone, all the usual bits of info; as well as
asking some questions about how he felt about Jack for entering him in
the sweepstakes. The company name and address were there in an obvious
frame for the page. Tyson thought, why not? and filled in the blanks.
About Jack, Tyson typed, “If this is real, I owe him a drink. If it’s a
joke, I owe him revenge.” Then Tyson clicked the ‘submit’ button.
It moved. Every time he tried to click it, the
button moved out of reach. Finally, he read a line at the bottom of the
page, “If you’re having problems click here.”
That link took Tyson to a page that said, “GOTCHA!”
Yes, it was a prank. Tyson plotted his revenge on Jack...
On a crisp day in October, Tyson and Leia went to
North Town Mall’s food court for dinner. Leia ordered from Taco Bell,
and Tyson decided to say something he’d been meaning to say for some
time. “Leia, remember why I asked you to quit smoking?”
She was about to eat a chalupa, but halted it
halfway to her mouth. “You thought I was killing myself with the
cigarettes, so I quit smoking.”
“Can I ask you to do something else for me? I’m
concerned that you may kill yourself with obesity.”
“I’m trying to lose weight. You know that.”
“Are you really? Look at what you’re eating.”
Leia looked at the taco and the chalupas. Tyson was
right. These were fat-laden foods.
“When was the last time you exercised?” Tyson asked.
“I’ve been busy with school. You know I’m taking my
last two classes right now, so I can graduate in December.”
“Right, but not too busy to play computer games.
I’ve seen how much solitaire you play.” Tyson said. “You know I’m only
saying this because I love you, and I know you have a lot of weight to
“Over a hundred pounds.” Tears fell down her cheeks,
and she hoped no one at the surrounding tables could see them.
“But I know you can do it. Tell you what: I’ll race
you: whoever loses twenty pounds first has to do something nice for the
He hugged and kissed her, and wiped the tears from
her eyes. Leia went to another food counter and bought a healthy salad
with vinaigrette dressing.
Tyson and Leia slept in late on Thanksgiving Day.
They were spooning together in bed when a sound like something falling
to the floor downstairs woke them. When they went to investigate, they
discovered Peanut in the kitchen sink trying to chew the wrapping off
the thawed turkey. The dishtub they put over the bird to impede their
cat now lay on the floor.
Tyson pried Peanut away from the sink. “Let me cook
it first. Then you can have some.” He gave Peanut to Leia and unwrapped
Both left their pajamas on all day. As Tyson cooked the turkey and the
pumpkin pie; Leia made stuffing, potatoes, and rolls. At 11:30, they
sat on their huge blue couch to watch football. Peanut purred on
Tyson’s lap as the Packers and the Lions duked it out.
“You know what I’m thankful for?” He said as he
petted the cat.
“Yep. She was the best Christmas present anyone ever
gave me.” he said. “Thank you.”
“Your Christmas gift to me that same year was also
“What did I give you?”
“An engagement ring.” They smiled at each other.
The timer on the oven beeped. Tyson carved the
turkey and put some on three plates. Peanut meowed as if to say, “I
want some!” Leia dished the trimmings on to two of the plates, then
took them into the living room so they could watch the second half of
Tyson brought Peanut and her plate of turkey into
the living room. “You don’t want this, do you?” he teased Peanut. She
kept trying to get at the plate until he set her down next to it. They
enjoyed a happy and relaxing Thanksgiving as a family.
In the even years, Tyson and Leia stayed in
Wisconsin to celebrate Christmas with her extended family. In the odd
years, they traveled to Tennessee to spend Christmas with his parents.
Before they left Madison, Tyson and Leia dropped off gifts for her side
of the family at the home of her parents. The Hughes House was white
with black shutters in a row of white houses starting from the corner
of the block. Leia’s mother Maria planted a garden in and around a tree
stump in the front yard, though the only thing one could see coming out
of the snow-covered stump was a sign that read, “Grandma’s House, free
babysitting and cookies.”
Tyson lifted the big box overflowing with gifts out
of the trunk of their two-door hatchback Hyundai that they bought the
year they were married. Leia shut the hatch, then dashed up the front
walk to open the door for Tyson before he got there. As she passed him,
she slipped on a patch of ice and fell in a snowdrift.
“Don’t say it.” She said, brushing snow off her
pants. “Don’t even think it.”
“What?” he asked, feigning innocence.
“Klutz?” He laughed.
“You know I love you.” Tyson smiled his most
“And a good thing, too.” Leia said as she knocked on
Frank opened the door. “Happy holidays, Poppy!” Leia
said as she hugged her father.
“Merry Christmas, Lollypop!” After the hug, Frank
stood back to let in his daughter and son-in-law.
“Happy holidays, Frank.” Tyson noted that Leia’s
father still called her by her childhood nickname, but then she still
called her father ‘Poppy’ as she’s done since she was daddy’s little
girl. It shouldn’t matter; Tyson recalled that he had a special
nickname for his princess. “Where can I set these down?”
“Under the tree,” came Maria’s voice from the
kitchen. The smell emanating around the house meant that Maria was
baking her famous cinnamon rolls.
“If you can find room under the tree.” Frank said.
Already stacks of wrapped packages crowded around the blanketed tree
base and overflowed to one end of the nearby beige couch. “Every year
she says she’s going to cut down, and every year we seem to have more
and more presents for the grandkids.”
“And here’s more for them.” Tyson said as he
unloaded the box.
“When are you two going to have kids?” Frank asked.
“Frank!” Maria shouted as she came in to the living
room. “What did I tell you about asking that?”
“Poppy, you already have ten grandkids.” Leia said.
“Yeah, but I want more.” Frank said.
“He keeps forgetting what a hard time I had getting
pregnant.” Maria said. Leia looked down at the floor.
“Someday, soon enough.” Tyson said.
Maria hugged her daughter. “You’ve lost weight,
“A few pounds,” Leia said, “I think. I hope.”
Maria said to her husband. “Their gifts are on the
arm of the couch.”
Frank held up a package. “No, try the bottom of the
stack.” He picked up two others. “Yes, that’s right.” Frank handed the
boxes to Tyson.
“Thanks.” Tyson said, “Sweetheart, we have a long
drive ahead of us.”
Leia kissed her parents goodbye. “I’ll call on
Christmas Day.” Then Tyson and Leia left for his parents’ home.
The rural Tennessee house was big for the two people
who lived there, but Tyson’s parents frequently entertained houseguests
including their three sons and their families. After he retired, Ned
Howard built the house with the help of his sons, using professionals
only when absolutely necessary for the electricity and plumbing. Eve
Howard enjoyed decorating the house with floral wallpapers and borders
and pastel or white wainscoting in many rooms. Even the bathrooms were
a sea of flowers and color.
This year, Tyson’s grandmother from California
joined them for the holiday, and Nick and his family also made the
trip, so Tyson and Leia were assigned the family room. Although the
room had a gas fireplace and a television set, it did not include a
bed–not even one hidden in the couch. Eve and Ned set up an air
mattress, but it leaked. About 3:00 in the morning, Tyson felt Leia
getting out of bed. With her weight no longer balancing what little air
was left in the mattress, Tyson’s bottom touched the floor.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“You didn’t. I’d be surprised if I’ve slept an hour
tonight on this thing.”
“That would be more than I’ve slept. After all my
late night marathon studying and sewing sessions, I was hoping to get
some quality sleep on this trip.” Leia said. “Do you mind if I take the
“No, go ahead. I’ll try the recliner.” Different
sleeping places, unfortunately, meant no spooning once morning came.
The rest of the family usually were awake by seven am anyway. The
sounds of children eating breakfast in the kitchen next door absolutely
forbade sleeping late.
On Christmas Day, after the children opened their
gifts, Eve held up a candy dish, “Chocolate anyone? I made them myself.”
Leia and Tyson shrugged no, thank you. Byron, their
ten-year-old nephew happily took the whole dish from his grandmother.
“Leia, now that you’re done with school,” Eve said,
“when are you going to have kids?”
Tyson answered so Leia didn’t have to. “Well, Mom,
there are other considerations besides Leia’s bachelor’s degree.”
Leia just sat and watched Byron play on the floor
with his new stuffed dinosaur. He flew it through the air. He made it
pounce and growl, providing his own sound effects. The walkie-talkie
they gave him last year was strapped to his belt and came alive with
his brother Jason’s voice, “Hey, Byron, you gotta come outside. Dad
wants to teach us how to play horseshoes!”
Byron dropped the dinosaur and ran outside. Leia
also left the room.
“Mom, can I talk to you alone?” Tyson asked.
“Of course.” The two went into the kitchen. Like all
rooms in the house, it was highly decorated. Swans and sunflowers were
everywhere in the large room. The kitchen was Eve’s domain, and in it
she ruled supreme. Tyson leaned against the breakfast bar, while his
mother washed a few glasses that had accumulated in the sink.
“Mom, before we have kids, we need a bigger car and
a bigger house. We’re trying to save up for those things now. Plus,
Leia needs to lose more weight. She’s read articles on the Internet
that children born to obese women have a higher risk for birth defects.”
“Can you really trust what you read on the Internet?”
“Have you ever logged on to the Internet?”
“You know I hate that computer your father has. When
he’s using it, I can’t use the phone. I worry about your grandmother
reaching us. You haven’t answered my question.”
“Just like any medium, you have to check the
sources. However, most information can be trusted. Leia has her routine
physical in February. She’ll ask her doctor then. In the meantime, lay
off on the kid issue. We’re having a hard enough time as it is without
you and her father asking us all the time.”
“I don’t mean to hurt you.”
“I know you don’t, Ma. But the truth is, every time
you mention it–every time we think about kids–we feel like crying.
Leia’s probably doing that right now.”
“I should go to her...”
“No, just leave her alone. We prefer to work through
this in our own ways. Believe me; I know from plenty of experience.”
That evening, two of Nick’s kids played on an
ottoman in the family room. Byron lay across it as his five-year-old
sister Tiffany piled decorator pillows on top of him.
“Don’t move!” she said. He couldn’t stop laughing
under all the little pillows, and they finally toppled off, burgundies
and golds cascading everywhere. Tiffany squealed, “I told you not to
Tyson and Leia sat on the couch behind the kids.
They missed their cat, and watching the children play made them even
more gloomy. “What are you thinking about?” Leia asked.
“Some day soon enough,” Leia soothed Tyson as they
cuddled together on the couch.
“Hey you guys,” Ned poked his head in the room, a
broad smile across his face as he told his grandchildren, “quit making
so much noise.”
“We’re not making any noise!” said Byron.
“Sure you’re not.” He winked at his son and
daughter-in-law. “Tyson, I need some help with my computer. Come
downstairs with me, okay?”
Next to a myriad of lamp-making supplies and
equipment, and a tool bench that would make any handyman jealous, Ned
set up a very basic computer system. The only item that didn’t come in
the original package was a scanner that Tyson and Leia gave him for
Father’s Day earlier in the year.
“So what’s wrong with the ’puter?” Tyson asked.
“Nothing, I just want to talk to you. Your mother
told me what you said in the kitchen.”
“And I want to help you. Are you planning on moving
to a bigger house?”
“When we get our current house fixed up.” Tyson said.
“What do you need to do?”
“Well, the whole bathroom needs upgrading, the
kitchen could use new appliances, the living room carpet is stained in
several spots, the front and back steps are cracked and falling apart,
the house has no rain gutters–.”
“Stop! If you try to do all that, you’ll never get
around to selling your house.”
“But, Dad, if we don’t do any of that, we’ll never
sell the house. Who’d want it?”
“You can’t do everything. You gotta leave something
for the next owners to do.”
“But how do we know which repairs will sell the
house? We don’t have any time or money to waste.”
“Call a realtor. They know better than anyone what
sells and what doesn’t.”
Tyson thought a moment, “You know, that’s a good
“Yes, I do know that. Want another?”
“Actually, it’s more of an offer: I’ll loan you the
money to buy a new car, no interest, just make regular payments.”
Tyson didn’t expect this. “Dad, you don’t have to–.”
“I know, but I want to help you kids.”
“You already bought two cars for me: one in high
school and one in college.”
“So what? I’ve made this same offer to your
brothers, and they each took me up on it. Now it’s your turn. Besides,
your mother’s worried about you driving back to Wisconsin in that beat
up old thing you’ve got. What d’ya say?”
“I say yes, but I have to talk it over with Leia.”
“Oh, I’m sure she’ll say yes, too.” Ned said sitting
at his computer desk, “Now let’s turn on this infernal machine and
start looking for cars.”
On the drive back to Wisconsin, Leia kept a silent
vigil looking out her window, seeing nothing of the countryside.
“Hey, Princess,” Tyson said, “Smile. Soon we’ll be
home, and we can see the baby.” Tyson referred to Peanut.
Leia smiled. Tyson always knew how to cheer her up.
“So what did Mom say after I left the room on Christmas day?”
“Nothing important.” Leia could hear in his voice
that there was much more to the conversation, but Tyson’s unwillingness
to talk about it told her not to press further. Tyson, in fact, wanted
to change the subject entirely. “Dad is worried about us driving home
in this thing. He thinks we should buy a bigger car.”
“Bigger car; how’re we going to afford that?”
“We need a new car. This one barely made this trip.
As for affording it, my dad offered to loan us the money to buy a new
car. No interest, we just have to pay back the principle.”
“What? Wow! He doesn’t have to do that.”
“That’s what I said, but apparently both my brothers
have received the same deal from him, so that’s why he made the offer.
Dad said he knows that we need a new car, and he wants to help. I think
he wants more grandkids, and he hopes this will speed things up.”
“Great.” said Leia, “But what about the house?”
“He suggested calling a realtor to look the place
over and help us prioritize repairs. He said, and I quote, we ‘gotta
leave something for the next owners to do.’ unquote. Look at all we’ve
replaced already: the furnace, the windows, the water heater.”
“We really can’t do everything. I’ll call a realtor
in January, okay?”
“Okay.” said Leia, who was smiling much broader now.
Tyson definitely knew how to cheer her up.
Tyson had a good, steady job working as a computer
network administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If the
network was running smoothly, he didn’t have much to do, so he was
allowed to peruse the Internet. In early January, he decided he would
look for a new car. Well, not really a new car. The immediate
depreciation of value made buying a new car impractical, so Tyson
searched for a used car. He punched in the amount they could spend, the
maximum number of miles on the vehicle, and gave how far they were
willing to drive to the dealership, and hit enter.
One hit was all he got.
The 2001 Dodge Caravan had only 12,900 miles on it,
which also happened to be the price. Although Leia worked in the same
building, it would be easier to e-mail her the URL for the website. A
few minutes later, his phone rang.
“Are you trying to tell me something?” Leia’s voice
said, “A Valentine’s gift perhaps?”
“We could afford it. I figure that if we paid my dad
back $250 each month, we could have it paid off in a little more than
four years. What d’ya think?”
“I think we have to go look at it.” Leia read the
website. “Hartford? That’s only halfway to Milwaukee. Do you want me to
call and see if it’s still available?”
Twenty minutes later, Tyson’s phone rang again.
“Okay, the Caravan is still available.” Leia said. “We have an
appointment to go see it tonight.”
The scenery was gorgeous as they drove along the
southern Wisconsin highway: some trees and houses were still decorated
from the recent holiday season, and the snow beautifully reflected the
moonlit night. When they arrived at the dealership, Tyson was grateful
for the bright lights illuminating the car-filled lot. A salesman named
Chuck greeted them with a handshake in one hand and hot cocoa in the
other. “Here’s the Caravan.” He pointed to a dark-colored vehicle. Leia
read the window sticker as Tyson asked a few questions.
“Did the owner have any complaints with the van? I
mean, why’d he decide to sell it?”
“He’s one of those types who buys a new car every
year.” Chuck said. “Can’t stand having a car that’s not current to the
“Any major repairs done to the car?”
“Nope, but it comes with a limited warranty. Would
you like to take it for a spin?”
Climbing into a minivan after being used to a
two-door hatchback was a little challenging, but they managed. The
greatest difference was the vantage point while driving. Tyson and Leia
felt like they were flying because they were so high up compared to
their little Hyundai. Tyson parked it under a street lamp, and they
checked out the interior and exterior for any signs of damage.
“Looks good.” Leia said.
Tyson agreed, “but we shouldn’t buy it without
looking at other cars first.”
The next night, they looked at car lots in Madison.
Tyson said, “I don’t understand why a small-town dealership would be
open until 9:00 pm, but dealerships in our city of over 200,000
residents are closed in the evenings.”
“It’s a puzzle to me, too.” said Leia.
They drove to the used car section of a large lot.
Each car had a large sign in the window, either in the shape of a large
price tag or pointed like a star, that posted the vehicle’s price
and–sometimes–its mileage. Tyson and Leia didn’t look at any car with
only two doors, but read most of the stickers in the side-windows of
sedans and other three- or four-door cars. The SUVs were tempting, but
pricey. “SUVs are way too expensive now that they’re trendy.” Tyson
The minivans weren’t much better. Both mileage and
price were higher than the Caravan in Hartford. “Shall we try another
lot?” Tyson asked.
Leia nodded. The next dealership was just down a
frontage road, but no vehicle had fewer miles or a lower price than the
first car they looked at.
After the third lot with the same results Tyson
said, “You know, I could get used to driving a minivan. What do you
“I want a car in which we can bring home a baby.”
Leia said, “A minivan will serve.”
“I’ll call my dad. He’ll pay the $12,900. I say we
pay the taxes and fees out of our savings. Sound like a good plan?”
“Sounds like a good plan.”
“Hello?” Leia shouted as she entered the house.
Tyson was seated on the big blue couch watching TV.
“Hello, Princess, happy Valentine’s Day. How was your doctor
“Better than I thought it would be. I’m down eight
pounds since the beginning of the year.”
“Excellent!” he stood up and kissed and hugged her.
“That means you passed the twenty-pound mark first and get the
something special. I’ll cook dinner tonight. Did you ask your doctor
about having a baby?”
“Yes, sit down. I need to talk with you about that.”
Tyson started to worry as he sat back on the couch.
Is something wrong?
“I asked Dr. Carpenter about pregnancy and the
weight issue. I even told her about the articles I’ve read. She asked
me about the sources for the articles, and when I told her they were
women’s magazines, she laughed.”
“Laughed? That’s rude.”
“No, not really. Dr. Carpenter told me to go check
out medical journals instead. Apparently they have to cite studies for
their sources, unlike women’s magazines. Journals are reviewed by other
M.D.s, so the information is much more reliable. She even gave me the
web address of a very reliable journal.”
“So back at your office, you did a search on weight
and birth defects. Then what?”
“No hits. I looked for weight and pregnancy, and
again, nothing on birth defects. Dr. Carpenter told me that any weight
I lose, including the twenty pounds I just lost, will improve my
overall health and make for an easier pregnancy. However, I don’t have
to be thin to be pregnant. Lots of large women have babies, and I have
beautiful blood pressure. Dr. Carpenter thinks I’m okay to have a baby.”
Tyson smiled excitedly, “That’s great!” He gave his
wife a bear hug.
“If I stop the birth control now, then in about six
months, we can start trying to have a baby.”
“What about our debt?”
“I want to do something to make me feel like we’ll
have a baby before this millennium is done. Let me do some more
searching. While I was on the Internet, I found a site that might be
helpful. I want to look at it some more, but at the very least, I want
to stop the birth control.”
“Okay, Sweetheart. Okay.” Tyson said.
Jack and Kay’s daughter was born the week before St.
Patrick’s Day. Tyson and Leia babysat TJ while Kay was in the hospital.
When they brought him to meet his new sister, they also brought a
blanket that Leia made for the newborn. TJ proudly showed his father
the new drum that Tyson and Leia bought for him.
“A drum?” Jack said. “Do you know how much noise
that thing’s going to make?”
“Yes.” Tyson said. “I might’ve bought something
different if I had $25,000. Gotcha!”
When they went home after visiting Kay, Tyson
checked the mail and handed Leia a big envelope. “Look who it’s from.”
Leia read the return address: Office of the
Registrar. She opened the envelope carefully. Yes! Her diploma arrived!
Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
recommendation of the Faculty of the
the degree of
Bachelor of Arts
Leia said as she showed Tyson.
Princess.” He said as he hugged
The April showers
wreaked havoc on Tyson and Leia’s
house. The lack of gutters left puddles all along the sides of their
house, flooding out what few flowers were mingled with the bushes.
Finally they called Benjamin, the realtor who helped them purchase the
house. Mercifully, when he came over he was very positive.
“No, you don’t
need to replace the roof; it’s still
in good condition.” Ben said, “Nor do you need to redo the bathroom.
Your father was right, you can’t do it all. Besides, some people like
having a room to fix up.”
“What about the
carpet?” Leia asked. “Should we
“I wouldn’t.” Ben
said, “Your tastes won’t be the
same as a potential buyer. You should offer a carpet allowance: tell
the buyer you’ll give money to put toward carpeting of their choice.
You have a lot of good qualities here: the new windows and furnace
especially are deal-makers.”
“What would be a
deal breaker?” Tyson asked.
“The tiles in the
kitchen.” Ben said, “They scream
1970s. Also, you should have the ceiling here in the dining room
replaced.” He pointed to the cracks spreading like spider-webs across
the ceiling. “You take care of these things, and I could get $80,000
for this house.”
“When we bought
this house six years ago, “Tyson
said, “we bought it for $61,000.”
estate has appreciated quite a bit in
recent years.” Ben said. “We keep being voted one of the best places to
finding a larger house?” Leia asked.
“That’s not a
problem. Right now it’s small houses
like these that are selling like hotcakes. They’re less expensive to
buy and maintain. Bigger houses sit on the market a while; then they go
down in price. If you’re looking for a bigger place, I can show you
“Not yet,” Tyson
said. “We’re not ready to move yet.”
“But you can be,
soon.” Ben said. “Go to your bank
and ask a mortgage officer about prequalifying for a home loan. You can
find out how much of a house you can afford. Then give me a call, and I
can show you houses in your price range.”
They thanked Ben
for his time. Over the next several
days, they asked friends and colleagues for recommendations for
carpenters to take care of the ceiling and kitchen tiles. In May, they
hired the father of one of Tyson’s co-workers. He got the job not only
because of his price and references, but also because he said hello to
and petted Peanut, who rubbed against his hand and purred her approval.
Tyson and Leia were paid biweekly, and May was one of the two months in
the year that included a third paycheck. The extra money paid for the
repairs, but they only made feeble headway on their credit card debt.
“I think I’ve
found a solution to our debt
problems.” Leia told Tyson just before Memorial Day. “I found this
great website called The Cheapskate Monthly, a
newsletter to help people like us who have too much debt. On the site,
I found what they call a Rapid Debt Repayment Calculator, which
calculates various ways of paying off debt. I entered our debts, our
interest rates, and a reasonable monthly payment plan, and here’s what
I figured out: 3½ years.”
“For us to get
out of debt?”
“Yep. If we
follow this schedule.” Leia handed Tyson
a packet of papers. Each column was a credit card to pay off, and each
row was their monthly payment. As the lowest debt is paid off, and the
Rapid Debt Repayment Program required more than the minimum, the money
from the first debt goes to pay the second. When that is paid off, the
money from the two payments goes toward the third, and so forth. The
last month was November 2004. They could do it.
“Okay. Let’s try
it.” Tyson said. “By the way, I
have some good news.”
“I’ve just been
hired by Kay’s law firm to do their
“No. They just
need me part-time to maintain their
system. I’m only charging fifty bucks an hour because this is my first
is fifty bucks. When do you start?”
“They need me
going to pay more than the minimum,
and then actually doing it are two very different things. Living on
less and not accumulating more credit card debt was really hard,
especially when things go wrong. And something always goes wrong. One
day in early June, the monitor on Tyson’s home computer displayed the
wrong colors, and everything on the screen looked fuzzy. After running
the diagnostics in his operating system without any success, he took
the computer apart and discovered that the power supply fried his video
“I need a new
one.” he told Leia.
“A basic one will
cost at least a hundred dollars,
but it won’t be good enough for the games I’m playing.”
“How much will a
good one cost?”
silent. She knew that Tyson liked to run
some sophisticated programs. He liked to draw maps for his games, and a
good video card was essential, but how could they afford it? The easy
answer was to put it on a credit card, which meant more debt and
interest to pay. Then Leia had an idea. “Sweetheart, when do you work
at the law firm again?”
Tyson’s face lit
up at this suggestion. “They asked
me to upgrade their backup procedures when I have some extra time. I
guess I just found some extra time.”
Leia drove Tyson to the law firm. “I
was wondering if you called the bank for an appointment.” she said.
“We don’t need an
appointment.” Tyson said.
“I thought you
were going to call about
prequalifying for a mortgage.”
“I did. Remember
last year when we refinanced after
the interest rates dropped?” Leia nodded, “Well, the loan officer said
she could use the same information to determine how much mortgage we
Leia was hanging
on his every word, “And...”
“We could buy a
house up to $146,000.”
that’s a lot!” Leia said. “How come
you didn’t tell me?”
“Well, I wanted
to surprise you. You see, I’ve been
looking for a house for us already. Work has been real slow now that
it’s summer. I’m waiting for a call back from Ben.”
“You big, sweet,
lug!” Leia hugged her husband. “I
need to go home, now.”
“If we move, we
need to sell our house. To sell our
house, we need to clean it.”
“Uh, okay.” Tyson
said as Leia nearly pushed him out
of the minivan. “Do I still get to buy a new video card?”
“Yes, as long as
you clean your computer room.”
officially went on the market on Monday,
July first. They frantically cleaned throughout June, but the place
wasn’t ready. During the first week of July, they were still working on
called upstairs. “I need your help
carrying these boxes!”
“Can it wait?” he
“No. I want to
take them to the storage place before
downstairs. “Do you need me to go with you?”
“Yes, I could use
“I need to go to
the law firm tonight.”
“I didn’t know
“Yes, you did. I
told you on the way to work this
“Now I remember.
Sorry, sweetheart. My mind’s been
racing. Between cleaning for the open house and preparing for our
Independence party, I’ve been scatterbrained. I’ll take these to the
storage place after I drop you off, okay?”
said. “Are you okay?”
“Are you sure
you’re not taking on too much?”
“I’ll be fine
once we’re moved. In the meantime,
I’ve been storing anything we don’t need in the next few months; even
the Christmas decorations are in storage.”
“But not your
Christmas sewing,” he said as he
looked toward her sewing table.
“I have five
months to complete that. I’ll have to
pause it when we move. If we move.”
we’ll move.” he hugged her, then he
carried the boxes to the van.
suggested they go someplace else, Tyson
and Leia decided to stay home during the first open house. Tyson
watched from the big picture window as cars slowed down in front of the
house, then drove away without stopping. He watched the people who did
come inside. They looked at the stained carpet, and they frowned. The
frowns remained as they walked through the house. No one seemed
interested. Tyson felt they should have heeded Ben’s advice and
disappeared for the day. After the last guests left, Tyson said to Ben,
“We didn’t get any offers. Now what?”
Ben said. “This was only the first
open house. Let me do some more marketing. I’ll sell this place for
Ben, but decided to do some searching
on his own. Back in the office the following Monday, he booted up his
computer and logged on to the Internet. He found few pieces of
information searching for real estate help. Mainly he found horror
stories from people trying to sell their homes by themselves. Then one
hit caught his eye: someone recommended a book: Dress Your House for Success by
Webb and Parsons Zackheim. He printed the page and showed it to Leia on
their way home from work.
“I think it might
help,” he said, “but I don’t want
to buy it unless I know it will help.”
said, “Let’s go to the library.”
A search of the
library’s computerized card catalog
showed Dress Your House... was available, so they checked it out. It
proved more than helpful. Tyson and Leia rearranged the furniture in
their home to create small “sets” with the space. One set included the
recliner, a small end table, and a lamp. Leia threw an afghan over the
chair, and it looked like the perfect place to sit and read a book.
Tyson cleared out the cabinets in the kitchen of all items but the
barest of essentials. Then he “faced” the remaining items on
the shelves. He turned all the cans
and boxes so the front of the labels were facing outward. This handy
little tip that the authors borrowed from supermarkets made the kitchen
cupboards look neat and organized. Tyson stood at the curb in front of
the house and realized why some people drove away without stopping:
some trees and weeds were sprouting around the bushes, and the handrail
on the front steps needed a paint job. He went to the garage, took out
his garden shears, and took care of the first problem. The second was
taken care of after a trip to the hardware store for some sandpaper and
paint. He also made a sign to put on one of the end tables: “House
includes a carpet allowance so you can buy the carpet of your dreams.”
The second open
house took place the following
weekend. This time Tyson and Leia followed Ben’s advice and went for a
“I have something
I want to show you.” Tyson said.
He drove them to another part of Madison where the houses were older
and larger. A three-story house with blue siding and a large front
porch had a “for sale” sign in the yard. Another sign, with balloons
attached, declared “open house today.”
The living room
had a great place for their corner
entertainment center. The kitchen was huge and had a dining set built
in to a corner: along the wall was a bench, and two chairs were on the
side of the table facing the rest of the room. A piece of paper on the
table declared the set was “included with the sale of the house, as are
all of the major appliances.” When Tyson and Leia met the owners, they
Sam and Maxine
were an older couple whose four
children were grown up with families of their own. As Maxine poured
some tea for Leia, she said, “We love having the kids and grandkids
visit, but it’s so rare that they can all come at the same time. It
would be easier on us to have a smaller place.”
Sam told Tyson,
“We’re moving to Florida. I don’t
want to shovel anymore snow.”
Leia, “Do you have any children?”
“Not yet,” Leia
said. “We’re hoping to start a
family as soon as we have a bigger house.”
“Let me show you
the bedrooms.” Maxine stood up and
led Leia upstairs. Sam took Tyson out to the garage, pointing out the
large backyard along the way.
Ben was smiling
when Tyson and Leia returned to
their house. “Guess what? I have four people who want to make offers.”
Tyson watched as poor Ben was engulfed in a huge hug from Leia. “Before
you get too excited,” Ben said, “they need to make formal offers in
writing. Then we can celebrate.”
grandmother put her two-bedroom bungalow
up for sale in 1995, Tyson and Leia jumped at the chance to buy their
first house. Ben made the sale as painless as possible, explaining
every single piece of the paperwork to all parties involved and setting
a very small fee because no marketing was needed. Now Tyson and Leia
were trying to sell that same bungalow and buy another house. In
August, they had to deal with the three written offers that were
actually submitted for their bungalow, as well as submit their
offer for Sam and Maxine’s house.
The first shoe
dropped with a call from their bank
early on a Saturday morning. “They turned us down for the mortgage.”
Tyson told Leia.
“How could they?
They prequalified us for up to
$146,000, and Sam and Maxine only want $135,000.”
“They say we have
too much unsecured debt.”
working on that! We’ve already paid so
much on our credit cards, and we’re paying more all the time.”
“I know that, and
you know that, but the bank
doesn’t know that. All they know is that we have thousands of dollars
of credit card debt.”
“Then let’s tell
them what we’re doing.” Leia said.
“Let’s show them our debt repayment schedule.”
“Leia, that’s not
going to convince them to loan us
“We don’t know
that until we try.”
“I’m not going to
show them that schedule.”
“Well I am.” Leia
went to the bills box and pulled
out a folder of papers. Then she left the house. The phone rang.
“Tyson, it’s Ben.
Bad news. The people with the
highest offer were turned down for their mortgage.”
“A lot of that
seems to be going on. We were turned
“What? I thought
you were prequalified?”
“So did I, but we
have too much credit card debt.”
“That can’t be
right; the bank knew about your debt
when they prequalified you. Something is wrong here.” Ben said. “Maybe
I should give them a call...”
on her way to the bank. She’s trying
to convince them that we have a working plan for paying off our debt
and still be able to afford a higher mortgage.”
“Well, there you
have it.” Ben reassured Tyson.
“Listen, don’t worry about the setback with the buyer. Remember that
two more parties still are interested in your house, okay?”
hung up the phone. He wasn’t totally
convinced that any of this would work, and just then he didn’t feel
like dealing with it all. So he went to his computer room to play some
Leia came back an
hour later. “Guess what, Honey? We
got the mortgage!”
“I showed the
loan officer the Rapid Debt Repayment
Plan, and how we calculated for the new mortgage with our income, and
she said that should work. The bank just wanted to know that we could
afford it all.”
Oh, you don’t know how much I needed
that good news.”
Leia. “Unfortunately, I have more bad
news. The buyers were also denied their mortgage.”
“Well, we still
have two more people interested in
the house, right?”
“That’s what Ben
said. Did you talk to him, too?”
“How could I? We
don’t have a cell phone. Don’t worry,
Honey. Remember that you promised me we would move. With our mortgage
approved, we’re one step closer.”
Tyson and Leia signed a lot of papers
in two separate meetings. First, they signed over the sale of their
bungalow to a couple that just got married and were using their wedding
gift money as the down payment. On Tyson’s birthday, he and Leia signed
the papers to buy Sam and Maxine’s house. When they met the older
couple at the title company, Maxine and Leia hugged.
weight.” Maxine said. “I was hoping you
would be gaining some now that you’ll have a bigger house.”
“Not yet.” Leia
said, “But we are working on it.”
“We’re moving in
to our new place on October 1.” Sam
told Tyson. “So you can start bringing in your stuff then.”
great.” Tyson said. “The people buying
our place have a lease until Halloween. If we’re completely gone by the
fifteenth, then they can start moving before their lease is up.”
Before they were
married, Tyson and Leia knew they
were both packrats. Between the two of them, they had more stuff than
Leia’s grandmother had when she was living in the bungalow with a
husband and five kids. Leia’s grandparents, however, were married
during the Great Depression, so “stuff” was never a problem in their
lives. Although Tyson and Leia already packed a lot of their
videotapes, computer software, books, games, decorations, infrequently
used kitchen gadgets, etc. and moved them to a storage locker, they
still had a lot of “stuff” in their house.
and packed his computer as Leia
packed her sewing machine and projects. In the first week in October,
they took loads of stuff to the new house.
Tyson found Leia crying in the bathroom.
started this morning.”
he hugged his wife. “Don’t worry.
Any day now you won’t have that nasty period anymore. If you let it
bother you, that’ll make it harder to conceive.” He grabbed a tissue
from a box on the vanity and wiped the tears from her eyes. “Right now
we have to move our things to our new house. Nick and his family and
Jack have come over to help us. Your parents are also here.”
“I don’t want to
Tell you what: the van is already
loaded. Why don’t you find Peanut and take her to the new house? You
know it won’t be home until the kitty is moved in.”
Leia gave a small
As was their
custom, Tyson and Leia slept late on
When they woke
up, they didn’t get out of bed right
away. They laid together, spooning. Tyson stroked Leia’s hair, then her
arms. He kissed her. Then he took off her pajamas...
Christmas day was
celebrated at Frank and Maria’s
house. Tyson and Leia sat on the couch as their nieces and nephews
opened their gifts. Francis opened the racetrack playmat his godmother
made for him. He brightly smiled as he wrapped himself in the playmat
as if it were a blanket. He rushed to Leia and Tyson.
Auntie Leia and Uncka Tyson,” he said as
he hugged them each, “I can play my new cars on this!”
welcome.” Leia said. Tyson winked to
Toni, Francis’s mom and Leia’s sister-in-law who told them that Francis
was receiving toy race cars from Santa Claus. Francis rushed off to
share his toy with his brothers and sisters, who sat amongst piles of
ripped wrapping paper and empty boxes as they played with their new
Toni sat next to
Leia. “All these wonderful gifts,
how are you going to top yourselves next year?”
“Well, Sis, we’re
not.” Leia said.
“Sorry, Sis. I
hope the little ones understand, but
this is probably the last year Tyson and I give gifts to all the nieces
and nephews, except Francis, of course. He is my godson.”
Tyson said, “You
remember the reason why we buy
gifts for our nieces and nephews?”
“Because you have
no kids of your own, except
Peanut.” Toni said.
“And we said we’d
stop the gifts after a specific
event.” Tyson said.
Tyson stood up.
“Could I have everyone’s attention?”
The kids continued playing, but Toni and the other parents hushed them.
After a few minutes, Tyson said. “We have an announcement: We’re going
to have a baby. Leia’s pregnant and due in August.”