It started off like any other Christmas morning. My two sisters and I were up first, kneeling in front of the tree, keeping a respectful distance for our first assessments, but sliding in ever closer, checking the weight of a few parcels, seeing if there was anything we could guess. We pointed out the missing cookies and milk to young Janice.
Mom and Dad soon peered in to the living room from the back hallway and when Mom said we couldn’t open gifts until Craig was up a small kitchen band was quickly assembled and Janice, Lynn and I marched downstairs to the bedroom he and I shared. We coaxed Sparky, our black cocker spaniel-poodle mix, on to the bed. Craig’s welcome was less than regal, and we beat a quick retreat, but we didn’t have to wait too long before he was on his way upstairs.
Our grandmother, visiting Valleyfield from Perth, Ontario emerged from her bedroom to sit in on the excitement. Sparky, doing what dogs do to those not enthralled by them, leapt up and nearly snatched some of Grandma’s knitting which she clutched to her chest – several pairs of socks and mittens which she had knit for us. We scolded Sparky loudly, with Grandma seemingly unfazed, telling us as she laid them on top of the other gifts that they were all about the same size so we did not need to worry about whose was whose.
“What do you say kids?” Mom asked.
“Thanks Gammy!” we shouted in unison. (“Gammy” was the name our grandmother gave herself when she first became a grandmother at fifty years of age. For so long as she continued teaching, she thought, she was too young to be called “Grandma” or “Granny”. The name stuck until her death at age ninety-five.)
After gifts had been unwrapped, Mom set about making a complete pancakes-and-sausages breakfast.
It soon occurred to us that Sparky wasn’t around.
“Oh I let him out the side door,” Dad said.
These seemingly innocent words were big trouble where Sparky was concerned.
“D-a-d!” came the response in some sort of four-part discord.
Mom looked like the hot kitchen and her blood pressure were tag-teaming against her.
“You know that dog doesn’t come home on his own,” she scolded. “That’s the reason we got him!” (We had taken possession of him from a third party who had done all the homework possible as far as seeking his owner.)
“Well he should know enough to,” Dad answered. “I can’t understand why he doesn’t.”
With Mom’s breakfast spread nearly ready, she was understandably none too happy as Dad and his four kids got into our snow gear and went looking for Sparky.
We split up and went in four directions – west and east along Boulevard du Havre, at one end of the street, and west and east along Dufferin Road at the other end.
The streets were quiet, with most families still indoors enjoying the early hours of Christmas morning.
Our search was futile. An hour or so later we assembled back on our driveway, heartsick. Mom stuck her head out the side door.
“I wish you’d come in and have your breakfast. I can’t keep it warm too much longer with the turkey due to go into the oven,” she appealed.
We were a pretty discouraged bunch, hungry yes, but not getting the full enjoyment from Mom’s hard work to be sure, Gammy trying to encourage us as best she could.
Mom was just filling the kitchen sink with hot water for the dishes when she glanced out a front window to see a cab pulled up across the driveway.
“Who’s that,” she began, “oh it’s Nancy and Bruce – and with their darn dog. Now what are they doing in a taxi?”
Where were they coming from? Weren’t they on their way to Nancy’s parents in Portland?
It turned out that their car had broken down somewhere between Montreal and Val-Cartier, where Bruce was stationed with the Canadian Forces. They had called Nancy’s Dad and he agreed to meet them at our place so long as they got that far on their own. Bringing along the dog ruled out the possibility of a bus so it was a cab driver’s lucky day!
Bruce insisted on keeping the dog tied up outside (and got no argument from Dad and Mom!). Mom got some tea and toast ready for our visitors just as Homer pulled his large Buick into the driveway.
He stomped the snow off his boots and came in the side door and, although he did sit down for a bit of a rest, he insisted that he was not hungry and would not have anything to eat or drink, well maybe a tea since it was made.
Our guests weren’t long getting their gear ready and into the car, the dog in the back seat with Nancy. The Buick was just backing away, with most of us in a line extending in from the door, when someone yelled “Sparky!”
Looking like he knew a bit of the trouble he had caused, Sparky hung his head low and walked up the back stairs.
“Sparky, on your bed!” Dad intoned, as someone wiped his feet with an old towel.
I don’t think it was noon yet.