Authors: Dana Landers
Christmas Eve dawned bright and clear. The snow that had fallen during the night was like a fresh coat of paint on the world. The roads had been cleared but the dusting of fresh snow hid the dirty brown of the salt and sand that had accumulated on the snow banks.
The girls got started early with their baking and Sam headed out to pick up their guests. Henry had wheeled his chair up to the kitchen table, and with his good hand, he was adding sprinkles to the warm sugar cookies as they came from the oven. Christmas music floated in the air and everybody sang along. Both dogs had taken up their places under the big kitchen table where they were out of the way but easily within reach of any stray baked goods that may happen to fall on the floor. As odd as it was for a dog, Jasper had a passion for the dried candied fruit that went into many of their cookies, and of course anything baked with butter was always a welcome treat. The little black dog was a quick study and by following Jasper’s lead, soon learned that good things come to those who wait.
The house was bursting with wonderful aromas when Sam returned. Wendy, and her hu
sband Geoff were greeted with warm hugs and slobbery dog kisses. Their two boys, Curtis and Max couldn’t get enough doggy love. They lived in an apartment and didn’t have pets, but they had met Jasper on previous visits and once you met him, you were Jasper’s friend for life. He welcomed them as if he had just seen them yesterday. They both hugged his furry brown scruff the same way Brinn always did. He was just that kind of dog. You had to get your face right into that mass of fur. When they finally came up for air, they greeted the little black dog too, asking what her name was. Julia explained her circumstance, and they gave her some extra hugs. Once all the welcomes were over, the girls finished up the baking while the boys took the dogs outside for a romp in the snow. Living in California was a far cry from Lilac Creek and the boys were ecstatic to be having a white Christmas.
The day passed quickly and as the children all finally headed off to bed, Julia and Wendy sat chatting in the kitchen, while Henry
, Geoff and Sam watched Scrooge on TV. Julia had filled Wendy in on the fire at the hospital, and on the passing of Henry’s friend Anna.
“Did they say what would happen now?”
Wendy asked. “I only talked to the director briefly and, at that time, he didn’t have much information. Did they give you any idea as to when, or if, Dad will be able to return to the home?”
“They didn’t really have an
y definite answers. There were decisions that had to be made regarding the reconstruction. They didn’t know whether the wing would have to be torn down or if it could be salvaged. Most of the residents were relocated to places that might be permanent for them. We thought bringing Henry here was easiest, and would give you some time to think about what to do.”
A worried expression crossed Wendy’s face. “I really don’t know what to do
. I hate to think of Dad having to move and adjust to a new place. And there isn’t anything else that is as close by. He would be so much farther away from all of you, and from Jasper. He’d sure miss those visits.”
Julia nodded. “It would really be hard f
or him, for sure.”
Wendy brightened, “But let’s just enjoy Christmas and then we’ll worry about it. We’ve taken extra holidays so we’ll be able to tackle those things once the big day is over.”
“Good idea,” Julia said, pouring them another cup of coffee. “And we’ll start by enjoying a couple more pieces of this warm shortbread!”
Once everyone was settled
down for the night, Julia and Sam took care of the final preparations for Christmas morning. Santa had a lot of children to visit at this house this year, and the pile under the tree would be massive. Stockings hung by the big old fireplace and Julia smiled at the sight of them. It was an interesting collection, to say the least. Brinn and Emma had taken a day to handcraft new stockings for this Christmas. Emma had sewn a very beautiful green velvet stocking decorated with gold trim. Brinn had fashioned a no sew version for herself and Kaylee made of red felt and glittery stickers. Julia and Sam had store bought varieties, and Wendy had brought theirs from home. Julia had purchased an extra stocking for Henry with white fuzzy trim that Brinn said matched Henry’s beard. And of course Jasper had his own stocking too. His was a big woolen work sock that he had claimed as his own when he first came to live with them. And last but not least, Brinn had hung a small red sock of her own for the little black dog. It was a cheerful sight and spoke volumes of the love and caring that this whole family shared.
Christmas morning passed amidst squeals of delight and surprise as Santa’s gifts were distributed and family gifts were exchanged. Dinner was delicious and abundant, and it seemed like the day was over in the blink of an eye. By sundown everyone was stuffed, content and exhausted.
As they sat together around a cozy fire, they listened to an icy winter wind drive new snow against the windows. But not a soul in the room minded at all. They were all safe and warm and together. And that was all that really mattered.
“We should give black dog a name,” Brinn announced a couple of mornings later at breakfast.
“I think it’s a little premature to do that,” J
ulia replied. “We’ve only just begun putting up notices and contacting people. We need to give things a little more time.”
“I know,” Brinn countered stubbornly. “But we need to call her something besides black dog.” Julia sighed. She looked at Brinn and shook her head, knowing how stubborn she could be once she set her mind to something. Henry was paying close attention to the conversation but hadn’t really been included. Suddenly his raspy voice made itself heard above Brinn’s chatter.
“Anna,” he said. When they finally realized he was speaking to them, Julia and Brinn turned and looked at him with some confusion. Julia, thinking that he was merely thinking about his lost friend, tried to comfort him.
“It’s okay, Henry,” Julia soothed. “
I know you miss Anna. Do you understand that she’s gone now?” Henry nodded and repeated the single word once again, this time reaching for the small black dog and bringing her into his lap. “Anna,” he repeated as he stroked the dog’s head. Julia gave his shoulder a squeeze and resumed her conversation with Brinn.
“We’ll think about a name when and if the time comes,” Julia said with a final tone. Brinn was about to argue when the door opened and
Wendy walked in. She had been over to the hospital to talk to the director and pick up the rest of Henry’s things.
“That’s everything,” she said depositing two small boxes by the back door. “Thanks so much for offering to keep these here until we get Dad settled.”
“It’s no trouble at all,” Julia assured her. “We’re glad to do whatever we can to help.”
there is one other thing,” Wendy said reaching into her coat pocket. She pulled out a small tattered and almost unrecognizable shape. It looked like an old well loved stuffed toy. She carried it over to where Henry sat with Jasper at his side. “Do you remember this old boy?” she asked, bending to put the toy under Jasper’s nose. “I think it belongs to you.” Jasper took the ratty object in his mouth and played with it. He sniffed it and licked it and rolled his head back and forth over it. The group in the kitchen laughed at his antics. Henry was grinning from ear to ear as he reached down and played a short game of tug with his old pal.
“I found it in the drawer of
Dad’s bedside table,” Wendy said. “He must have kept it close at hand to remind him of Jasper.” Her voice was full of emotion. “It must have been so hard for him…..” her voice trailed off.
“Anyway,” Julia said trying to fill the awkward
silence that Wendy’s words had created. “They are having a good reunion. Let’s let them enjoy it.” Wendy nodded and left the room to hang up her coat, while Julia made some coffee to enjoy with what was left of the Christmas baking.
Eventually the girls headed off to play with their new
Christmas toys, and Henry decided to take a nap. Sam and Geoff got him settled and then turned on the TV to watch some sports. Julia seized the opportunity to talk to Wendy alone. “There’s something I want to discuss with you,” she said to Wendy in a hushed tone. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of the others until I had talked to you.”
Wendy looked at her with both question and concern on her face. “Don’t look so worried,” Julia hurried to reassure her. “It’s a good thing…..I think.”
“I’m curious now,” Wendy said, some of the worry leaving her eyes. “What’s this all about?”
Julia took a deep breath and began. “Sam and I have been talking, and we would like to know how you would feel about Henry staying on with us instead of moving somew
here else. He’s comfortable here, his care isn’t anything that we can’t handle and we have plenty of room. He would be with Jasper, and he’s already like a grandfather to the girls, especially Brinn. What do you think?” Wendy sat there speechless. “I know it’s a lot to decide on the spot, but I wanted you to have enough time to think about it some before you had to make your final decision. It’s something we’ve given a lot of thought to, and we’d really like to do it. We love Henry and we’d like to see him spend his last years in a place he knows with people he loves and who love him.”
“You know you’re rambling, right?” she laughed. “It sounds like you really have given this a lot of thought. I can’t think of any better place for Dad to live than here. He loves this old farm. And since he won’t even consider moving out to live with us, I think this is a perfect solution. I know he’ll be so happy. But are you absolutely sure?”
Julia took Wendy’s hands in her own. “We couldn’t be more sure. He will be an awesome addition to our family.” Tears welled up in Wendy’s eyes and she could barel
y speak. “Thank you so much,” she said squeezing Julia’s hands.
The next day
Wendy told everyone about the plan and the news was met with howls of approval from the girls and lots of hugs and handshakes among the grownups. Jasper and the black dog barked loudly in response to all the noise, and Henry just grinned. He found it most difficult to speak when his emotions ran high, but the tears in his eyes said it all.
When the day finally came for Wendy and her family to leave, the parting was a much happier one that they had ever expected. Wendy was so pleased that Henry was staying on at the farm. And although she always wondered when they parted ways, if this might be their last time together, her heart was grateful that he would be among “family” for the rest of his days.
In the t
hree weeks that had passed since Christmas, no one had come forward to claim the small black dog that had attached itself so instantly to Henry. In a way, Julia was almost glad because the bond they had formed was extremely close. She had barely left Henry’s side since they brought her home. But surely she was somebody’s pet. None of the veterinary offices identified her as a patient, past or present, and the shelter had had no calls about a lost pet. They had put ads in all of the local papers, as well as the closest city paper, just in case the dog had run away. But all of their efforts had failed. It seemed that this small black dog was a mystery indeed. The local shelter had called asking if they wanted them to take the dog and place her in foster care, to which Brinn had immediately stated, “No way!”
And so it was, that the black dog became theirs to keep. Now Brinn was insistent that they give her a name. She was not going to be put off any longer. “I think, since we found her at Christmas, it should be a Christmassy name.” Sam laughed.
“I wouldn’t exactly say we found her,” he said. “More like she found us.”
“Well that’s true
,” said Brinn. “But it was at Christmas time. I think we should call her Noel.”
“That is a pretty name, “Julia said. “What do you think Emma?” Emma nodded in agreement.
“It’s a pretty name. I like it.” Kaylee was too young to be consulted, and Julia had no better suggestions.
“How about you, Sam?” Julia queried. “Any comment?”
Sam just shrugged as though he didn’t really need to add his two cents. He happily delegated all dog related responsibilities to the women of the house. Then Julia turned to Henry, who appeared to be the true owner of the dog. “What do you think, Henry? Do you think Noel is a good name for this pretty lady?” Henry just nodded and smiled, as he held the little shaggy mutt close to his chest.
There was no way he could tell them
who he believed with all his heart that this dog really was. As far as he was concerned, they could call her anything they wanted, but she would always be Anna to him.
Over the years, Christmas came and Christmas went, always with the same sense of love and celebration. As the years went by, there were fewer stockings hung on the old fireplace, but those who were no longer with them were never forgotten. Jasper and Henry grew old together and the black dog remained Henry’s constant companion for all of his days.
Brinn, Emma and Kaylee grew into strong, compassionate young women who were always ready to open their hearts to anyone in need, and many a
Christmas table was set to include friends, acquaintances, and sometimes even those who were almost strangers.
Many more dogs left a paw print on the heart of the family
as well, and they too knew unconditional love for their entire lives. Jasper’s spirit guided each and every one of them through their journey.
And just as they had planned, Sam and Julia grew old together too, and made very good use of the rocking chairs that still sat on the wide verandah. Like all married couples, they often reminisced about the old days, but they also looked ahead to the day when Grandchildren would sit with them in these rickety old rockers and listen to their stories. God had blessed them abundantly and they were grateful.