Veloy and I were in love early on, even though we were both young at the time. I had just graduated from high school and she was barely 16.

Within two years, though, we were to face a separation that, even now, is one of the most difficult things I have had to do in my life. For two and a half years we were only able to communicate through letters. And though still impassioned about our dreams for the future, we were totally insecure with with how those feelings would pan out.We were apart so long that it was hard to imagine what the beloved even looked like. You would focus on a photograph, try to remember a time spent together and devour each phrase of a letter when it came, holding onto subtle lines that now, years later, are stacked in precious shoe boxes in the attic. To pull them out is difficult. The scent of separation still lingers on the familiarity of those letters.

The third Christmas was particularly hard. Especially for Veloy.

I was in Esbjerg, a fishing and export city on the west coast of Denmark, living in a basement room with a small sprig of a Christmas tree on a bookcase.

Veloy was home from school for the holidays in Pleasant Grove with her mom and dad. It was a melancholy Christmas. She was lonely and discouraged. The weather was drab. Everything about the holidays seemed to remind her of where she wasn't in her life.

One morning as she sat in the rocking chair by the kitchen window looking out into the foggy future through fading Christmas trimmings, she began to reflect on the excitement she had felt about Christmas as a child and was overwhelmed by a sense of loss.

"Mama," she said to her mother, who was sitting at the table, "I feel like all my best Christmases are over."

There was a tone in her voice that told her mother this was a lot more than the fading of Christmas, because her mother said something that, over the years, has been very meaningful to Veloy, and, especially now, is cause for strong reflection.

"Oh, Veloy," she said, "you'll make it through this Christmas, and as far as feeling that your best Christmases are behind you, nothing could be further from the truth. I know it's hard for you to see now, but your best Christmases are yet to come."

At the time, her mother's words were timid consolation.

But her mother was right. Veloy's best Christmases were still ahead. I know, because since then I have been with her through all of them.

There were the Christmases of college and secondhand ornaments, and three or four strings of lights with paint scratched off the bulbs. There was the Christmas in Denmark in a tiny attic flat, with colored cellophane snowflakes taped to a window facing onto a Danish winter landscape and two small children sleeping in a corner of the room.

There was the Christmas in our house on the corner in Alpine, where she worked for hours making a "toy rabbit" on her sewing machine, and the Christmas in the house in the field with a Christmas tree that was a crooked juniper limb, and the Christmases on the hill, and the Christmases out here in the ravine, where she has watched out the window as the kids rode new sleds down the hill and where she has seen them grow away from home and come back again - for Christmas.

Like this Christmas.

Nineteen people sat around the table for her now-traditional Danish Christmas Eve dinner of pork roast and red cabbage. For a second year, our son-in-law, Tim, won the prize for finding the whole almond in the rice pudding. For the 30th year, I had to figure out how to make a Christmas tree stand straight and dreaded it every time.

With only one of our six children left at home, Veloy is recognizing the truth of her mother's words, that the best Christmases come, not when we are children, but when we see the light of Christmas in our children's eyes, and later still, when we see their eyes light up as they, too, become parents - and in the way Christmases seem to come around so fast, much faster than they used to, and with much more meaning as their value is amplified over time.