The parents' student years ended, and the family journeyed east. They packed up those possessions that held meaning for them, including the handmade ornaments. Years passed, and Christmases came. Sometimes the family drove out to the country to cut their own tree, and it always surprised them to see how much wider it was when they brought it indoors. They hung the old ornaments, and they added more: a star of folded construction paper that the boy's friend made; sparkling garlands; lights. The boy built a model of a human skull, and when the father placed it at the top of the tree, another tradition began. A small dog joined the family, and it became his joy to steal ornaments off the tree and tear with them through the house, and to be all but impossible to catch.
The dog grew old and died, and a new one came. The husband's beard turned white. The boy never stopped studying, but he grew to be a man and moved far from his relatives and friends, to a place where the land lay flat, like the calmest of seas. One year, as Christmas drew near, the father and mother bought a small tree. They climbed to their attic and carried down the ornaments, which, unlike the family, had not changed. The woman affixed them to the tree, and while she worked she thought of her son, who would be coming soon with his love and a little dog. Life went on, and every heart was glad. Birds, angels, ribbons, stars.