Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oliver’s first snow

Back last June, my family became involved with the Pilot Dog program, which is based in Columbus. My son signed on as a puppy raiser for a school community project. The dog at 12 to 14 months old will be turned over to Pilot Dogs to receive more formal training to become a guide dog for the blind. So we received beautiful, adorable, mischievous Oliver, a yellow Labrador retriever. He was 7 weeks old then and now he is 7 months old…a bigger dog with a puppy-like brain. It is fun to watch him learn and explore his world, which could range from a pile of leaves in the backyard to the dark recesses of the toilet bowl.
Oliver does not have any boundaries. He enthusiastically bounds forward to meet each new experience. One of which, was his first snow. He woke up in the morning with his usual routine of going potty, eating his breakfast and finding ways to get attention. We let him out the back door, he runs outside…crunch…crunch…crunch and a slip across the deck floor. He suddenly stops, looks at his paws in confusion, takes a couple steps backwards, stops, sticks his nose straight in a small drift and snorts in surprise. He can’t figure it out and looks back at me for my reaction. My smile tells him this is fun and THEN he leaps in the air and pounces in the snow. Similar to a fox or coyote trying to pounce on a mouse through the snow for their dinner and then runs in circles like a snowplow gone wild.
Oliver loves snow. He loves the bracing, cold wet sensation on his nose. He loves the sounds he creates as he leaves a trail of paw prints, next to prints left by wildlife that live by the neighboring woodland. He loves how his breathy pants leave little misty clouds in his wake as he explores the fresh scents of squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits. He loves to attack low hanging tree branches and bushes, spraying snow powder upon h is head and back. He loves to try to catch the loosely packed snowballs I throw at him.
I love watching Oliver having fun in the snow. I love his doggy smile. I love that he is a great dog. I love that someday Oliver will help a blind person have the confidence to explore their own world. I love Oliver. I’ll miss him.
Checking out,
Mrs. V

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Christmas tree the highway gave up

I grew up on a farm, and times were usually lean and we lived off the land. My brother and I were not raised with many luxuries so Christmas was especially a time to look forward to. We might get a new toy or a few clothes that we wanted. We knew not to expect a bounty, but we never felt shortchanged. I guess it was the way we were raised that Christmas was not all about the presents. It was about love and enjoying family time with each other.

But, one particular Christmas when I was about 8 years old, my brother and I were told that Christmas would entail very little presents and we would not be able to afford a real Christmas tree, which was a family tradition. Instead, we would put up the ratty, ugly, used white tinsel tree (which ironically has become trendy these days). We made our usual decorations out of lights, popcorn, cranberries, candy canes and handmade ornaments. I am not sure why this particular Christmas was leaner than others, but I remember feeling a little scared and uncertain

There is a special ambiance in the home during Christmas, a special spirit that infuses the family and your friends. I have always loved it. But that Christmas, there was heaviness in our house. A sadness pervaded the positive outlook and no-quit attitude my parents usually exemplified and I wonder if they were angry that no matter how hard they worked and saved, it just wasn’t enough to get ahead. A parent just wants to make things perfect for their child, and they must have felt powerless in not being able to make that Christmas special.

Two weeks before Christmas, we experienced a blizzard during the night. Beautiful, pristine white snow blanketed the farm. A constant fall of night snow beckoned my father to impulsively wake us up. My mother helped us put on our winter coats and boots to go out into the front yard. I believe it was either midnight or 1 a.m.

Following the rays cast by the front porch light, my father ran through the glistening snow and pelted my mother with snowballs. Soon we were all in a giant snowball fight between the women and the men. Our sheepdog Spot was the referee, trying to insert his body between the warring clans. My mother and father were chasing each other in circles beneath the old, front yard apple tree, laughing like children. Later when we were worn out, we set to work creating snow sculptures of bears, rabbits, a snow family and a tiger laid out along the front yard. What a beautiful, magical night. Afterwards, I am sure when I went back to bed on the couch, my dreams were of our snow sculptures coming alive, dancing joyously beneath the still falling snow. We never did that again as family, but it was enough. A memory I will cherish forever.

The next morning, while my mom went to let Spot out to do his business I heard her gasp and screamed out my father’s name.

“Look outside! There is a tree in the front yard,” she said.

We all rushed to the front yard to see Spot sniffing the greenest, most lush Christmas tree I ever saw. The bright sun revealed that it had rolled down the hill from the highway we lived next to and settled near our snow sculptures. It was still compactly tied up, ready for the Christmas retail season. My father rushed out and carried it into our living room and immediately we were hit with that wonderful scent of fresh pine.

My parents had determined that the tree had come loose from one of the trucks transporting trees to the Christmas tree sale lots. A lost tree finding its way to our front yard never happened before or since. I believe it was a gift from someone up high and I believe my parents thought so too. For their positive outlook came back and I believe that tree to them represented they weren’t alone in their struggle to raise a family and maintain a home.

That Christmas was about finding joy in the simple things of life, be it a midnight festival of snowballs and sculpture or a surprise gift of a lost Christmas tree. Cherish these holiday memories, kids, because there will be a day when those memories will be all you have of your parents and grandparents. Make memories of your own…a simple, lifelong gift for a loved one.

Checking out,

Mrs. V