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Friday, December 27, 2013

First Christmas

Over the past couple weeks, we have been transforming our home into a winter wonderland. It is a “wonderland” if one has a lot of imagination, the ability to over-look chipped and faded “heirloom” ornaments along with the not-too-obvious burned out light bulbs here and there on the tree.
It is inevitable one stumbles upon those memories of Christmas' past. The ornaments our children made in kindergarten of flour and water, the “Baby's First Christmas” brass decorations designed to hold a photo of the little bundle of joy; both photo and ornament now faded. My mind wandered to those “first Christmases” so long ago. Our last baby's first Christmas was 33 years ago.

I was in danger of the mists of Time enveloping me while standing before the tree, arm frozen in mid placement of the geegaw.
A canine snuffle and snort saved me from taking a maudlin trip down Memory Lane, complete with old Bing Crosby tunes. I looked down to see Ike expelling a snoot full of Christmas box dust from his nose.
Ahh, yes...another First Christmas is at hand; Ike's.
We have not had puppies in our home for over a decade. As such, we have either forgotten, or deeply buried, those quaint little things that make puppy-hood so special. As my Lovely Bride and I are not all that old, I feel strongly we suppressed the memories. Psychologists refer to this as a “survival mechanism”.
There have been some memorable Christmases with dogs...
When first married, we had a white German Shepard named Eb, who adopted us one Sunday after church. There he was, prancing around the parking lot as the congregation was departing. When we got to the car, I opened the door for LB and our baby daughter. The dog hopped into the backseat, sat down, and awaited the ride home. We stopped at nearby farms asking if anyone was missing a dog. One fellow chuckled, shook his head, and said “Looks like you have a dog.”. So we did.
As our first Christmas came, we borrowed a friend's pick-up truck with which to haul our tree, which we would select and cut down. Upon returning home, Eb was delighted at the indoor plumbing we installed just for him. He took “watering the tree” to a whole new level. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a slightly damp, odoriferous package on Christmas morning.
Our little mixed breed, Becky, was under the impression the brightly wrapped boxes and such were for her personal use. She would delight in ripping the paper off, construct a little nest for herself, and take a nap in her handiwork.
Our Great Pyrenees, Tori, was quite memorable. We obtained her from a breeder during the “Belle and Sebastian” craze in the mid 1980's. “Belle” was a Pyrenees who had all manner of adventures with a little boy, “Sebastian”. Our son was enthralled with the show. Being the level-headed, calm, practical parents that we are, LB and I determined the only thing to do would be to obtain a Great Pyrenees puppy. I retrospect, all I can say is “Good Lord! What were we thinking?”
Tori (short for Victoria), was quite a handful. Literally. She was 11 weeks old when we picked her up, and weighed about 25 pounds. She didn’t stop growing until about 15 months of age and 130 pounds.
She was a good dog, in her own way. Of course, most of us loved her because she was our dog.

One indelible memory consists of our son, Gabe, wanting to take her for a walk in the snow. He was about 5 or 6 at the time.

Making certain Gabe was bundled up, we then handed him the lead, sending him outdoors with the admonition to “be careful”. When will parents ever learn to not utter those words?

We soon heard cries of “Tori! Tori! STOP!!” emanating from  outside. Assuming something had gone awry, we ran to the door. Flinging it open, we witnessed Tori galloping through the snow, the lead stretched behind her, and Gabe hanging on with both hands, being towed across the white landscape.

Dashing outside, we finally caught up with the pair when Tori stopped to sniff at a tree. Gabe was none the worse for wear, and was pretty game about the whole ordeal. We recently heard from his therapist who confirmed Gabe is making progress in dealing with this event.

However, back to Christmas.
When we married, I received some old Christmas ornaments which had been in my family for years. I could not recall a tree that did not have these same few ornaments upon it. Being extremely delicate, they were always handled with utmost care, hung where they couldn't be knocked from their branch. As peculiar as it now sounds, I actually looked forward to unwrapping these treasures from the past, nestled in their protecting layers of tissue paper.
Then, one day, while in the kitchen, I heard a strange sound coming from the living room. The strange sound was soon followed by Tori bounding into the kitchen, bleeding from her lips. Finding this to be somewhat unusual, I stooped to examine her mouth. There, between her cheek and gum, was a goodly amount of red, silver, gold, and green bits of glass.

Carefully removing this, and checking her tongue and so forth, I then swapped her mouth with a wet paper towel. Failing to see any large lacerations, I then swabbed the minor cuts as best I could; all while wrestling an 80 pound (at that time) puppy.
Completing the do-it-yourself veterinary care, I then checked the living room. There, in shards of glass scattered everywhere, were the remains of the beloved family ornaments. I didn't flip out; that would not have restored the items. I couldn't even be angry with the dog; she was just doing what dogs do.
I reflected while cleaning up the debris how capricious Life can be. These decorations had survived two World Wars, a Great Depression, upheavals and good times unscathed. However, they could not survive Victoria the dog.
Our first Bulldog, Tinkerbell, amazed us. When setting up our tree, somehow or another one of her chew toys fell into the water filled tree stand. She looked perplexed for a moment, then wandered off to seek out another toy. The toy was forgotten over the next couple of weeks. Or so we thought.

While we were removing the tree (an ordeal in its own right). Tinkerbell was lounging nearby. As soon as the tree was lifted from the stand, she dashed up, sniffed once, then retrieved her toy from the pine needle filled water! Proudly, she went upstairs to enjoy her long lost treasure.
Now, we have Ike.

Everything this year is new to him. Our tree is now smaller, and stands nicely on an end table. This offers a degree of protection from leg-lifting and ornament stealing. The delicate china Nativity scene is upon a desk, which negates any of the Wise Men becoming a chew toy. We no longer have to be concerned about antique ornaments being trashed, which is nice in its own way.

However, we have discovered some unique seasonal behaviors from him. Ike is NOT enthralled with musical decorations. We have a musical string of lights on the tree. The music plays, Ike freaks out. The more it plays, the more wound up he gets. He barks, he runs about, he tries to get at the tree. We now have a silent tree. This is better than dealing with a freaked-out dog.
We also have a musical decoration which consists of Santa Claus playing an up-right piano. Amongst the silver garland along the top of the piano, there are multicolored blinking lights. In order to hear a jaunty Christmas classic, one simply squeezes the jolly old elf's hand. In turn, Ike freaks out, begins to bark, run about, and tries to jump on our piano upon which the toy piano rests. . We shut off Santa; and all is quiet again. Until the Christmas clock in the kitchen chimes at the hour with a variety of Christmas carols. He seems to be getting used to this one, though. Do you happen to know if it is normal for dogs to have a facial twitch?
Ike has made another interesting discovery.

He has learned when he grabs the pretty red fabric hanging over the edge of the table, the sounds of things toppling over fills the room. He has noticed a corollary between the above action/effect and either LB or me, or both, dashing madly about. For some perverse reason, he finds this greatly entertaining.
Perhaps his greatest discovery and source of joy has been the lights and little wooden snowmen in front of our home. From the moment these were arranged in their place, he has delighted in tromping around on them every freaking time he goes outside!!
Good Heavens! After the 235th time of sniffing, hiking his leg, and nearly knocking over the bigger snowman, one would think he would realize nothing has changed! Yet, the day has not fully begun until he has watered the outdoor lights.

I am counting down the days until Twelfth Night.
Keep us in your prayers.

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