by Kathe Campbell
If you have married children you most likely watch them juggle parents at Christmas. I call it the "Every Other Holiday Syndrome." Wife's parent's on odd years and husband's family on even years. Simple. Except when unforeseen circumstances found this unsuspecting mom and pop facing a lonely Christmas for the first time.
Okay, we can handle it, we're grownups and we understand, we kept reminding ourselves. Okay, that is, until our Golden Retriever collapsed under a massive seizure that forced us to say good-bye to our beloved lady. We were heartsick over the loss of our Nikki. Oh, dear God, I lamented, what a bummer just before Christmas. I cried buckets while Ken labored to keep his macho image intact. Finally he let go and it was a dreadful scene.
Just a week later severe arthritis and profound loneliness for Nikki rendered our 15 year old Border Collie withdrawn, incontinent, and unable to walk. The excruciating trip to the veterinarian was nearly more than we old souls could handle. Ginger had been what we mountain folks call a "dump-off," and we had gladly adopted this sweet and loyal herder. Was celebration of our Lord's birth taking a back seat to the loss of adored family?
Christmas eve morning Ken popped out of bed full of oats and vinegar. I, on the other hand, was still caught up in gloom and despair over beloved dogs, and slightly miffed at his seemingly aloof attitude. "I'll be back in awhile, dear," he shouted on his way out the door. The house was deathly still. As the rising sun's pink radiance surfaced the top of our mountain, I stood at the window pulling myself together and yearning for the laughter of grandchildren around me.
Towards noon Ken returned through our front gate, opened the truck door, and out flew one great tri-colored mass of fur. What on earth! The ten-month-old Keeshond (Dutch barge dog) from the Humane Shelter, raced through the snow into my outstretched arms. As if she had known me forever, we fell over in a joyous heap of emotion, this medium sized wiggly bundle of yips and slurps. She had appeared the sorriest looking pup in the place, her brown eyes pleading, "Please Mister, take me home with you?" Ken was smitten.
We took our dog to town for a lovely Christmas Eve dinner (Keesha's in the form of a doggy box), and then to the pet shop for all the right toys and perfect collar. She readily stuck her nose up over silly toys, her passion was to be talked to often, to sit close, to work hard, and to be loved unconditionally. Now that reminds me of just about everyone I know. The thoroughly content tousle-haired pup held down our big feather bed as we watched yuletide services between our toes. Twelve years later she still spends precious time in her place precisely between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., whether we're there or not.
The villous curly tail dancing a jig atop her back, the sweet pup snuffled out all the interesting scents about our ranch. She rolled and played in the snow that Christmas morning, acquainting herself with the donkeys, ducks, and geese. Gratefully, she had no desire to chase, bite, or torment -- she was a keeper.
And so, instead of hanging around pretending we weren't sadly devoid of human companionship, we grabbed our new pup and headed for our Salvation Army Church Headquarters. Captain Miss B. welcomed all three of us to begin setting out table decorations and peeling spuds. Keesha was so frightened she might be abandoned again, she sat quiet as a mouse in the vestibule watching Miss B's Schnauzer jump in circles.
More volunteers arrived to help serve ham and turkey dinners to an overflowing dining room, a place where humble families and destitute homeless dined in the shadow of Jesus' house. A place where both Ken and I rose above our Christmas blues, savoring the meaning of the day as never before. That evening we three wearily returned through our front gate to the echoes of waterfowl and heehaws lamenting their late holiday fare. But it was such a good tired, the kind that firmly commits to memory the most blessed Christmas ever.
Sharing and giving are the ways of God.