The Christmas Column

December 19, 2010

Last year at this time I wrote a piece about my beloved wife’s strange fondness for Christmas decorations and all of the frippery associated with the holiday season.  Ever the seeker of balance, I tend to drift into the role of the “bah, humbug!” figure in the family narrative.

Mind you, in the early years we did have some epic expeditions “up home” to the area of the old Croskery homestead on MacAndrews Lane, where we found pine boughs in abundance.  It was the journey, rather than the product, which we sought.  Our VW Beetle made many runs up to Brady’s Lake with trailer attached in search of greenery for wreaths and centre-pieces.

Of course Christmas morning took on new interest when our son Charlie grew old enough to catch onto his mother’s enthusiasm for the morning of discovery.  Fueled by the daily chocolate treats in an Advent calendar, he had shown considerable interest in this Santa Claus character.

But then he slept in.

In frantic-elf-mode Bet doesn’t sleep much on Christmas Eve, and as the morning wore on she only had Grover, our springer spaniel, for company.  She couldn’t even open her own gifts, because I never seemed to get around to putting cards or tags on the things I had wrapped.

Finally, in desperation, Bet brought me coffee at 7:00 and woke the kid.  “Oh.  Is it morning?”  Down the young mother dragged her son to the decorated tree by the wood stove below.  Charlie obligingly accepted the wrapped box Bet handed him, opened it, discovered a desirable toy, and set about to play with it.

Striving hard to learn patience, Bet waited for his attention to veer off to other wrapped parcels, a pile of which were arranged suggestively around the boy’s seat on the floor.  But Charlie’s considerable powers of concentration were focused on this new toy, and he saw no reason to look further.

But Bet was not without her wiles.  Grover’s attention span was much shorter than Charlie’s, and when bored, Grover liked to amuse himself by latching onto one foot of Charlie’s sleepers and dragging him around the house to the accompaniment of his own growls.  Grover was one garrulous mutt.  I don’t know what Bet did to remind Grover of this charming habit, but before long Charlie skidded by the door, laughing, dragged by a large, growling spaniel.  Soon both were back at the tree and the stack of gifts was attacked with renewed interest.

Grover’s gift this Christmas turned out to be a leather harness.  Charlie received a red plastic sled to go with it – the kind with a moulded seat and two hand brakes at the sides.  We plunked an oversized helmet on the kid, loaded him into the sled, and led Grover down a trail left by my snowmobile.  Most dogs love to pull, and Grover proved untiring in his enthusiasm for this game.

The dog discovered that if he responded to my shouted instructions from behind, he would be allowed off the leash and he could really pull his little master along.  It turned out that all the dog needed to know was “Gee!”  “Haw!”  “Whoa!”  and “NO!  Grover!  NO!” (squirrels).  The problem with a dogsled, of course, is the pileup which frequently occurs when the dog unexpectedly stops to sniff something.  Three-year-old Charlie developed very quick hands on the brakes, and as a result Grover grew quite confident in his role.  I still remember him a year or two later pulling Charlie through six inches of powder one day as we made our way from one set of trails to another.

This travel arrangement put considerable pressure on the father to keep up, so for three winters I did a lot of running on snowshoes along trails behind that sled.

Over the years not much has changed at Christmas.  Bet still overdoes it on the presentation of Christmas treats, and a succession of spaniels have in their turn emptied a full pound of Turtles out of the dish on the coffee table – without ill-effects beyond a scolding.

Snowshoes and the Ranger have replaced the dogsled at Christmas now for the traditional hike in the woods, but if a grandchild comes along I have my heart set on a Bernese Mountain Dog.  They use them to pull carts in Switzerland, and they’re known to be slow movers.  I might just be able to keep up.



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