There has never been a time in my life when I have been without the companionship of devoted, furry, four-legged friends. For someone like me, a solitary person, there is no equal to the comfort, acceptance, and love provided by my precious pets. I shouldn't even call them pets--they really are my friends and family. During our lifetime together, Mom and I and took in many rescue animals. First it was the dogs, and then the cats came. However, when I was growing up, my family owned a number of Boston Terriers, also known as "BTs". They are really wonderful little dogs, and the ones we had the longest were two sisters. I was nine when we got them, and they stayed with us until I was about twenty years old. My grandmother had a fondness for English Bulldogs, which were the dogs of her childhood, but my grandfather was not quite so fond of the breed. They compromised with the BTs, and we had many wonderful years shared with little black and white "mushed-face" dogs. The two sisters were real characters, and they had opposite personalities. One was slightly aggressive, and the other was more meek in personality. They were very close, although they sometimes bickered just like human sisters.
We always wrapped presents for them under the tree, and they loved to rip up the paper and find their rawhide chews and other goodies. They had a couple of other holiday habits which took us a while to discover. We kept finding broken Christmas ornaments under the tree. These were the delicate, old-fashioned glass kind, and at first we thought they were falling off the tree and breaking on their own. Then we discovered the real cause of the destruction: the BT sisters were grabbing the little glass balls from the lower limbs of the tree and crunching them! They didn't seem to be swallowing the pieces, they just enjoyed the snap, crackle, pop of the crunching glass. We had to put all non-glass ornaments on the limbs within their reach, and they would sit and look at the tree like they were expecting something! Those dogs were also nog-nippers. Anyone who sat a glass of eggnog within their reach would notice eggnog missing from their glass. When we caught the BTs with eggnog mustaches, we knew who to blame!
One of the most offbeat Christmas gifts that I have ever received was a Betta Fish. This present came after my home had become a cat refuge, and it came from people who had known me for a long, long time. People who knew I had a houseful of cats and still gave me a fish as a present. A beautiful fish, beautifully presented in bowl with greenery, but still a swimmy, swishy, swirly fish whose movements caught the eyes of the cats. I tried moving the fish bowl different places in the house, but I knew it was a lost cause from the first time I looked at Mr. Fish. My mother begged me not to go back to work after the holiday and leave her alone with the cats and the fish. I packed Mr. Fish up as best I could so he would be secure for his return car trip to the home of the clueless gift givers. I apologized to him all the way to their house, reassuring him that it was nothing personal and that it was in his best interest to be returned to the givers. They were not pleased that I returned the fish--even years later they would bring it up in conversation. My Southern manners would not allow me to say what I really wanted to say, but inside I was dying to let it out!
Mom loved yard sales, and I was her chauffeur. At one particular yard sale I didn't buy anything, but I gained one of the greatest treasures of my life. The lady holding the sale had found an adorable little black dog which she couldn’t keep, and she said she would have to find him a home or take him to the animal shelter. He was so bright-eyed, cute, and friendly, and he followed me all over her yard. I already had other dogs, but several days later, I went back and got him. He was a little mixed mini-dachshund, and I named him “Max”. He lived to be almost 20 years old. He was the light of my life. He never thought small–he thought he was a Rottweiler! As a matter of fact, one of his many, many nicknames was “Baby Rottweiler” : ) He had a “radar ear” which seemed to rotate in many directions. He communicated his feelings with that ear! He was always lively, but in his later years, he had a little trouble getting around. He had arthritis and other problems, but he was still "Mad Max". One holiday season, I ordered Mom a Whiskey Cake from Downey's Restaurant in Philadelphia. We had seen the cakes on a home-shopping program on TV, and I knew Mom would enjoy the treat. The first time we sampled the cake, we both agreed that it was delicious, and worth the extravagance. As soon as we unwrapped the cake, and tasted it, Max showed a keen interest in what we were eating. He gave us a piercing stare with the radar ear at a sharp angle. I spooned up a little cake with some of the whiskey syrup (just a tiny amount), and Max loved it! He almost ate the spoon, and then he gave his whiskers a good cleaning. Mom and I had a good laugh, and the next thing we knew, we heard snoring! It was Max, in a blissful whiskey-cake induced sleep. The three of us shared that cake, making the most of it for as long as we could. Marvelous, magical, mischievous Max--I miss you so!
My Mom and I had a tradition of loading up our dogs in the car one night each holiday season to go see the Christmas lights throughout the area. Mom and I would sing holiday songs at the top of our voices, and the dogs were a captive audience. We always ended the evening with a trip to the ice cream store! Mom got eggnog ice cream; I got peppermint candy cane ice cream, and the dogs got vanilla! By the way, occasionally our singing did set the dogs off, and then there was howling and singing!
I certainly could not write about animals and the holidays without telling the story of my cats and the ham dance. My very dear friend Jan, who comments here sometimes, is "The Greatest Ham Cooker Ever". She is so very kind and generous and cooks me a ham and brings me wonderful homemade treats for Christmas. The first time she brought the ham, the cats and I were ecstatic--you would be overjoyed too if someone brought you a superbly cooked ham with pineapple and cherries, and it was still warm from the oven!!! As soon as she left, just barely out of sight, the cats and I started the ham dance. We were on the front porch, in the dark, acting like famished fools about to fall upon that holiday ham, and we were unaware that my mother's best friend had quietly come through the front gate and was watching us. Mom had been gone for a while, but her friend still came by on occasion. Mom would have felt the joy of the ham and joined us in the ham dance. Her friend did not share our sense of humor and our closeness with our pets. When I turned around, and she was right behind me, I almost jumped off the porch! She was looking at me very strangely, and she asked me if I was okay. After just a slight pause, I responded: "Never better!", and I offered her some ham. The ham dance is a much-loved annual tradition between Jan and me and the cats. I make her my Garlic Cheddar Biscuits for her own ham, and we are all well-satisfied...and well-stuffed. The ham dance...don't knock it until you've tried it.
Do you have favorite and funny animal stories from the holidays to share? What are some really strange gifts that you've received? I come from a fruitcake-loving family. Fruitcake--do you, or don't you? What is your all-time favorite holiday treat?