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silverwolf1

Christmas Day

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silverwolf1    202

Christmas day

Part1  ‘Decorating the tree’

 

I trudge steady through a fresh blanket of heavy snow, Tippy behind me leaping from one depression to the next left by my heavy boots. Scanning the white hillside, my grey eyes light on our elusive prey, a stately old Blue Spruce standing apart from the forest, its four to six foot young gathered close around its warming branches. Tippy sniffs among them, squatting before a particularly nice specimen to leave a steamy yellow hole in the snow. Smiling, I agree to the one she has so ceremoniously picked, and with a soft prayer my hatchet ends its life. Thanking the grand old tree, I promise 5 in the spring for the one I’ve seized. Poor payment, but this hill was bare when first I walked it with my father so many years before. Tying a rope to the trunk of my victim, I begin dragging it back the way I’d come. I’m filled suddenly with laughter as Tippy, having found a lone branchlet in the deep banks, begins dragging and tugging it beside me. Much too large for her, she walks backward, pulling and barking at her prize, then turning to yip at me. Relenting,

I swing a loop of twine around the base of the twig and pull it along with mine, her still grasping it till she cannot keep pace with her load.

 

We return home, my tree tied securely to the roof of the truck, Tippys strapped firmly to the hood. Entering our chilly home, the cold dripping from our faces, Tippy races me to the fireplace only to wait till I stand our trees on the porch before adding wood to the dying coals she finds. After removing wet boots and coats, her tiny leather jacket full of fine black fur, I fix hot tea for myself and warm cream for my lady, both spiced with cinnamon and steeped raspberry leaves, and settle before the now blazing fire. We warm ourselves with the fire and each other with our closeness till day slips away to dusk. Rising from the floor, after gently laying my sleepy lover’s head on a pillow, I bring the tree from the porch to the wood paneled room, remembering quickly to bring her tree in too. She wakes as I make fresh square cuts on the base of each, clamping mine in a stand, then building a stand for hers from bricks placed in a small pan.

 

She meets me, tail dancing, at the hall closet where I’ve stored a collection of odd decorations. Not a fan of store bought trinkets; I instead find pleasure in the objects saved from our travels together. The abandoned birds nest she brought me last summer now holds a snowbird, its black and white plumage delicately carved at my bench, as have dogs and deer and Santa and angels that I now arrange on the stiff branches. The twigs and berry vines collected to sample habitats have been woven to form wreathes and bows filling the spaces between the few old ornaments given us as gifts. Dried Sweetgrass replaces tinsel, its silver-green blades reflecting dully the firelight. An ancient tinfoil star tops my tree, adding brightness to the painted wood décor, and Tippy, having quietly watched the transformation, happily thumps her tail when I turn to continue on her silly branch. I finally string one strand of lights, white like the night stars, my only concession to modern times. I have no strand for hers, but promise to look for one tomorrow.

 

We eat a small meal of hash before the fire, and spent the night there in each others embrace admiring the flickers among our trees reflecting in each others eyes. Tomorrow’s meal will be larger, and shared with friends, but tonight’s fills us more, and warms my heart.

 

Part2 ‘family’

 

I wake, shivering beside the dying fire, and give in to comfort by turning up the thermostat. It is early still, the dawn just breaking, and I let my lover sleep as I go to work preparing Christmas cookies to take with us to my sisters Christmas eve dinner. Being a bachelor in her eyes, I’m never asked to contribute to the meal though a much more talented cook than she, but always try to provide something. This year will be ginger and anise cookies, and butter-rum balls. Tippy wakes, trotting to the kitchen to jump in her chair and beg a sample of sugary dough. I laugh, pausing my labors for a delicate kiss, and fix her a kibble breakfast and myself a granola bar. I would forget to eat at all, I think, without her gentle reminders.

 

The baking ends before noon and I slip out to the barn, unnoticed by Tippy, to wrap a small gift and retrieve some pine-bough wreathes for my brother and sisters. We made these a week ago, collecting discarded branches from the tree farm and twisting them to a wire frame before festooning them with holly leaves. Placing them in the truck with a bag of presents for all, I turn back to the house, hiding a small package beneath my coat. Tippy meets me at the door, scolding me for leaving her, and I laugh as I place her present beneath her tree. Curious, she sniffs the wrapping and I remind her that its not hers till tomorrow.

Flicking her fancy tail, she turns to me and yips a happy tune to my ear. Clucking to her, I pick up our coats

and head for the door.

 

The 65 mile drive to my sisters made more pleasant by Christmas tunes over the radio, an hour finds us singing “Silent Night” as I pull up to a bright, gaudily decorated double-wide. I am besieged by screaming hordes of children before fully out of the truck, a multitude of nieces and nephews who love their childless uncle for the free reign he gives them. I am the center of attention for all, from 2 to 18, till they see Tippy is with me, then am forgotten as she is carried gently inside. I turn, alone, to carry presents and cookies in the house. At the last moment my brother arrives to lighten my load.

 

 My sister, her immense frame as gaudily decorated as her house in a bright red Santa skirt festooned with reindeer, bars the door. “Merry Christmas, scrooge!” She yells in my ear as her massive arms envelop me.

“Bah, Humbug!” I grinningly try to play the part, though special warmth fills me from each successive sister’s hug. Four large sisters, and a fairly good size sister in law, crush my muscular frame, then I am further compacted by my “little” brothers bear-like grip. Brother-in-laws are next, a mix of size and age shaking my hand, a couple still wary of me and on their best behavior. A word here and there for Tippy warms me more as welcomes continue through 14 children. Rescuing Tippy from the throng, after an admonishment from my sister to keep her off the new couch, I search out the important hellos in the kitchen.

 

There is only one kitchen I love being in more than my own, ruled over by a Sicilian/Irish leftover from the 50’s, with ‘Fonzies’ greased coif and a typically Celtic sense of humor. My brother-in-law allows no interference in his domain, relegating even his wife to another room. “She’d burn bread and water!” He insists. Yet on this day, in that wonderfully aromatic room, a slight, portly woman with smiling brown eyes stands beside him creating holiday miracles from meager ingredients. My mother turns as we enter, brushing her small hands on an old apron before hugging and kissing my cheek. My brother-in-law booms a happy hello, insisting I taste of his latest creation. When I am not quick enough, he gives samples of glazed ham to Tippy instead, her swinging tail indicating her approval. We are not ordered away from this room, being the only ones besides my brother allowed in this magical realm.

 

The meal is laid out buffet style, a true cornucopia of delectability, along the counter separating the kitchen from the dining room, traditional ham and turkey crowded by salads, sauces, and such odd creations as sausage stuffing and pepperoni bread. A sideboard strains under the weight of holiday breads and pies, and my cookies which dwindle fast before the feast. My sister points out a chair, nearest the kitchen and farthest from the kid’s table set up in the living room. It is perfect, and close to the kitchen corner where I know Tippy will be sent. As mothers fix plates for finicky children, the chef lays a huge ham bone surrounded by pumpkin and sausage stuffing before Tippy. Being the lady she is, she licks his hand in thanks before settling to her meal. Being childless, I am second in line behind the mothers, never since he was born have I beat my brother to a buffet.

 

The small house is crowded with smoke and scent and the warmth of too many bodies, yet even nervous Tippy, who hates being surrounded by little people, happily thumps her tail as the youngest sits on the floor beside her sampling her plate. The little ones father shakes in fits of laughter as her mother grabs her away in mock disgust. Tippy barks at her table-mates removal, sending the whole house into an uproar! The meal ends with the child back at my ladies plate helping her with the mushy pumpkin, and her mother innocently not noticing.

 

The meal over, and our guts bursting, we talk, laugh and joke as we watch each child open gifts from aunts and uncles, the youngest again causing merriment by tossing away the expensive toy I purchased to play the rest of the day with the box. The adults exchange gifts with even more noise, lack of incomes and many children keeping the gifts simple, yet giving them more meaning. The sister closest my age, the poorest with a disabled husband and the majority of little ones, hands me two packages, one with my name and a larger one for Tippy. I hold back emotion, silently happy of the check mailed to her house so not to embarrass her here, and allow Tippy to open hers first to reveal a large, used ball and a new rawhide chew.

The ball gets me, and I step from the room with a hidden tear, not caring what my package contains.

 

Good-byes are as hard as hellos were easy and, loaded down with leftovers, Tippy and I start our chilly drive home, kept warm with memories of the day.

 

Part 3 The gift

 

I wake Christmas day to find the bed empty beside me, and call softly to my lover. When she appears, she is holding her gift, still wrapped, in her small jaws and I invite her to open it on the bed. With help, she reaches the pillows and begins shredding wrapping paper to reveal a new woolen sweater, pink of course. She lets me slide it over her delicate head then lifts first one paw then another to take the sleeves. A hot kiss of thanks, and she leaps down to wander into the bathroom. I follow; a shower needed, and find her before my full-length mirror, though not looking at it. I turn her to it, showing her how pretty she looks as if she needed help, and knowing that she tolerates these outfits only as it pleases me. But that is love as I understand it, and she makes me smile with her wagging appreciation whatever its motive.

 

My shower, uncharacteristically alone, lingers, as I know no present waits under my tree, yet when I emerge I find her ‘new’ ball lying below the branches. Never in our time together have I known her to play with balls, though I’ve given her many, but she knows I do. Even if accident or illusion, I accept the gift with a grateful hug, and prepare her for our day abroad. Leather jacket and booties over her new sweater, and pink panties bought as a gag that looked so cute they became her dress-up standard are her ensemble today, with a miniature Santa hat for good measure. If she truly did not enjoy dressing up a few times each year, she never let me know, her tail beating a happy crescendo to mix with her sweet barks.

 

An hour drive finds us at our first destination, the wildlife rehab center, where we spend five hours caring for several temporary and permanent residents. The kind folk who also work here have children, and as we have not, we agree to spend this holiday here freeing them to be with theirs. Tippy dislikes the office here, smelling too much like a vet’s office, but loves to roam the cages and stables taking in scents as she visits friends old and new. A fox bitch, her rear legs mangled by a haylage harvester, greets Tip and I at the door. She walks now with help from a bicycle wheeled cart, and so is a permanent resident and fast friend of my lady. They talk and carouse as I feed, unathletic Tippy racing ahead of Grays cart and both yipping so loud as to deeply disturb the broken winged Hawk I am attempting to control. 28 hungry mouths later, and several medicines administered, and we must bid farewell to Gray to make our next appointment.

 

In the truck parked before our next stop, Tippy watches with amusement while I don a stuffed red coat and pants then allows me to remove her jacket and straighten her hat. She becomes my elf, to the great amusement of the children confined on this day to the pediatric ward of the university hospital. A nurse, an old family friend, meets me at the door with a sack full of gifts, both bought by parents and donated, but it is my lady as usual who holds their attention. Amazingly, she allows herself being manhandled and squeezed by happy hands for over an hour, then bears another 15 minutes being cooed over and commented on by the wonderful nurses, there with strangers children though their own wait at home. Her panties get embarrassing comments, though in truth I cannot keep my eyes from wandering to the pulsing flesh beneath that shiny silk. We find ourselves carried unexpectedly from floor to floor visiting more nurses where Tippy is passed hand to hand and cuddled enough to stir jealousy in me. In the truck I apologize to her for being inundated with people, knowing her basic dislike of them, but have my concerns assuaged with a kiss.

 

We return home late, a holiday made good by friends and strangers alike, and I tell Tippy how proud she makes me with her grace and beauty in these places. I let her know I understand her gift as it was given this day while I stroke her soft head. She leads me to our door, then races inside as I put away the days encumbrances. Finally making my way through the house, I find the days final gift, laying on my pillow, tail dusting the sheets, feet in the air, and pink panties twitching!J

 

Epilogue:

 

That was my last Christmas with Tippy, a memory I have selfishly savored. Last year, I hid in pain and loneliness, letting the holiday pass with tears and sorrow. I hurt Tippy doing so, self-pity reducing her memory to others. This year, though it will be hard, I will be with my family and I will visit the hospital as Santa, with no elf. Some who knew her will remember her sweetness though, and thus make my own memories that much more tender.

 

Happy Holidays folks, and may Tippy bless your gatherings…..silverwolf.

 

Post Script 2017: I spent 17 more years celebrating in the manner Tippy would want, with her son, and with my next lover Shadow, till 3 years ago when Rags passed. This year, once again I bring new blood to an old celebration with my lab Sage and another border collie, Aggie. Life and Christmas goes on folks, and where-ever and who-ever you are, I hope a bit of the spirit finds you today and carries you through tomorrow. Merry Christmas!

sw

 

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