Sunday, December 20, 2009

Belt packs and Dalmatians

I'm waiting for E to come home from work. As I write this Celine Dion beats her chest and sings away on the DirecTv satellite radio. The monkeys talk in their beds so they can stay up as late as possible. The Christmas tree glows in the front room to discourage any potential robbers of empty houses. I wait, rolled up like a human pasty* inside layers of flannel and electric blanket. It feels like Christmas, most notably because there's an E to wait for.

*Pasty, like Cornish pasty. Not pastie. Ew.

I spent the better part of my Saturday crocheting, grocery shopping, and doing housework. At about 8:00 I realized that my shirt had been tucked in all day, a source of some serious reflection. This is further evidence, I believe, that I am slowly but surely turning into my mom/Grandma Lila. For further proof I point you in the direction of my thriftiness, my jam-making and my recent (albeit running-related) interest in the Spibelt, or as most of you know it, the fanny pack. It's only a matter of time before I hit up the Indian casino with a Ziplock of nickels and a dream; I celebrate this transformation. I can't think of two better ladies to turn into. (Plus, let's be real. Everyone likes those two. That wouldn't be so bad.)

Christmas is, for me, a scope through which to view that which matters in my life. Last year when I was so painfully alone, that lens centered on something that was very much the empty opposite of what I wanted. But most years, it centers my vision on family, God, and the loving relationships in my life. For the rest of the year, my head is continually turned away from those things for various reasons or in response to various obligations. At Christmas I regain

[Okay, holy cow. "Jingle Bells" by The Singing Dogs just came on. How the heck am I supposed to continue with this post on FOCUS while that's playing? I'll just ride it out. In truth it portends the topic of this post.]

Anyway, at Christmas my world goes back to being small. Anything on the periphery is actually pretty easy to forget. Inevitable musing about my childhood ensues, and inevitable parallels occur when I think of my own children. This year I keep thinking about one Christmas Eve where I basically scared the crap out of my parents (Mom, especially). This is one of those "what goes around comes around" moments, and while at the time I just did not get why it was any kind of deal--let alone the teary thing I saw in my mom's face that morning. I find myself thinking that if this happened in our lives, I would be a wreck too. So Merry Christmas, Mom. I get it now.

It was Christmas Eve morning, probably around 1990. I believe I was 11, but I'm sure one of my parents knows the date better than I do. Our family Dalmatian, Nestle (like the chocolate chips?) escaped into the front yard. The details of her escape elude me now, but based on my actions that followed, I am pretty sure I had something to do with it. The weather that day was like it is now--biting cold, and there was a grey fog hanging low in the sky. Pretty standard around here for that time of year. I was wearing a nightgown with a coat thrown over it, but no socks or shoes.

Nestle was the kind of loving little cuss that wanted to play every time she got out. As a kid this terrified me. To a kid there's no knowing that a dog really will come back, and I remember my stomach dropping to the floor when it looked like she wouldn't. I was young enough to have strictly established boundaries in the neighborhood, but old enough to feel responsible if this dog ran away or got hit by a car. I followed her slowly, pleading and half-crying because she just smirked and kept going (you know the look), teasing me to chase after her. We lived about two blocks from the main boulevard (a major border to my late-Elementary school exploration) but she'd never gone that far. I never thought she'd go that far. My feet burned and prickled on the cold sidewalk but I thought if I left her that would be the last time I saw her. I stayed with her, feeling like that was the responsible thing to do.

I didn't tell anyone where I was going. I didn't even tell anyone I was going because I was sure I'd be back inside before it got noticed. No such luck. She hit the main street and crossed over to the park. I looked everywhere for help but there wasn't a soul in sight. The lifeless houses on both sides of the street told me I better take care of this because nobody was going to help me. I pressed on, through the weeds, gravel, and frozen grass of the park--I had tough feet but by December the July callouses had long-gone. This hurt. I followed all the way to the lake, in fact, where Nestle decided to take a late December dip. That was my chance. I finally called her over and grabbed her collar. Looking around again just proved that I was truly alone. I couldn't leave her. This was my dog, my friend. I cried and cried.

Of course I hadn't thought to bring a leash. I hadn't thought, period. I dragged the rambunctious Dalmatian across the park and when I saw the houses facing the street, I gave in to the fact that I just couldn't do it anymore. I knew my feet hurt too badly and I'd drop her collar somewhere, sending us both back into this ludicrous game of tag. I also finally realized that someone might be worried about me.

Though I didn't know any of the people who lived there, I picked a benign-looking house and knocked on the door. Me, my nightgown, my raw feet, my wet, wild-eyed dog... the whole thing. A nice lady opened the door and I remember seeing her do one of those "oh dear" faces. She let me come inside and use the phone, though, and in one of the great ironies, nobody answered at my house. They were all out looking for me. I'm fuzzy on the rest of the phone call details, but I believe I called my grandpa (Mom and Dad I'm sure you'll tell me if I don't remember that correctly). What stands out to me is that by the time I saw my mom, she was teary and grabbed me for a hug. I remember trying to explain about not wanting to lose the dog... and hearing her say that I was so much more important than the dog. To me--I wasn't lost to myself, so it wasn't scary, and I loved that dog so much I couldn't imagine anything worse than losing her...

I finally get it.


  1. Oh my! I had locked this memory away with the other memories that still scare me. I think you were 9 the day it happened. We had a strong wind storm that blew a large section of fence down. You forgot the fence was down and let Nestle out back. She always looked for opportunities to escape and she was a fast runner. You went out front to call her and the next thing I knew you and Nestle were gone. As a mom, I'm sure you now can imagine the terror of not knowing where you child is. My terror-filled mind was sure that someone had kidnapped my wonderful, beautiful daughter. After searching everywhere and not finding you or Nestle, Grandpa brought you home to us. I still get tears in my eyes thinking about the joy I felt having you back. I think that was the best Christmas present I received that year. I hope Addie and Henry never give you the same experience. Love you!


  2. What a story! What an ending! Your poor parents.

    Funny, you had a childhood dog named Nestle. I had one named Hershey.