The best Christmas I can remember as a child was the year I got Odie. Odie was the most perfect beagle. In 2015, a beagle named Miss P won the Westminster Dog Show. Odie was almost identical in color to Miss P. His head might have been a little bit smaller and he did not have Miss P’s expression of bored indifference, but he could have run circles around her in the judges ring. For months leading up to that Christmas, the only thing I asked for was a beagle puppy. “What do you want for Christmas, Cindy?” someone would ask. My answer every time was “A beagle puppy.” I don’t remember what year this was or how old I was. It was sometime between broken arms and my sister was still young enough to get excited about the surprises we would find under the tree. The two of us, like most children, tiptoed carefully down the stairs at two o’clock in the morning to take a peek at what may have been left for us under the tree.
The two of us were about half way down the staircase when I heard a whimper. I forgot all about being stealthy and quiet, instead I ran down the stairs with the heavy un-lady like footsteps of a troll. An open box sat under the tree with the tiniest saddest little puppy, begging for company and love. I scooped him into my arms and took him back to my room. When we cleaned out the family house and started sorting through the multiple containers of pictures, we found hundreds of pictures of Odie as a puppy sleeping on someone’s lap, curled up on a boot, tucked into a cushion at someone’s feet. He was impossible to potty train and ended up leaving a big stain on my mom’s hardwood floors. But his worse offense was chewing up the rungs of Mom’s dining room table. That banished him to the outside for good. He was still the best dog, to me anyway and he lived a really long and happy life. Odie set the bar for any future dog that would come into my life.
That was the best Christmas not just because of Odie, but because I think that’s the last Christmas I can remember where I still felt that spark and excitement of Christmas. Maybe I knew that Santa was not real, but I believed in him any way. In fact, I still believed in all things magical and mystical, but it was an age where I still got excited over the whole gift thing. Not just the surprise of what I was going to get, but seeing the faces of joy as others opened their surprises. It is the last Christmas I can remember that didn’t include a layer of sadness or an awareness of the sadness of others. That is not to say that Christmases since then have been bad. It’s just that Christmases have an underlying layer of sadness in general. It is a time when memories, good and bad, swirl around our heads and we can’t help but miss the ones no longer with us to share in those memories.
Do you know how many times my Mom told us all the story about the time my sister woke up before everyone on Christmas morning and then opened ALL of the presents? It is a story of legend. My Dad would laugh every time. One year we all decided to change the Christmas tradition of ham or turkey for our Christmas meal and instead have what we all loved to eat, fried oysters. We would all end up in the kitchen at some point. Dad was always our unofficially designated food taster. J would make the cocktail sauce, stirring in horseradish to a bowl of ketchup like a science experiment. Remember that year Randy caught a shark? Katrina brought a fondue set and we all stood around it dunking bits of shark and then everything into hot oil. Fondue became known as fundue. There was the Christmas when Chris surprised me with a pair of earrings that I had been coveting. It wasn’t the earrings that made the surprise so special. It was how he had to sneak over to Eureka Springs with out me knowing it to get the earrings. Which he managed to do in glorious Chris fashion.
Whenever those memories get too overwhelming, I grab Josephine and cradle her like a baby while scratch her belly. I put my face to her face and tell her what a sweet puppy she is and how much I love her. She’ll lick my cheek and then every thing’s alright. Because just like at that Christmas when I got Odie, puppies make everything better.