The children heard the sound of their grandmother calling them in from their play. Her voice had mingled with the whispers of the wind, so at first, they simply thought it was the blustery weather. The little girl, Amy, was rolling a ball of snow in her mittened-hand, she could feel the cold soak through. Her brother, Ivan, who was just a couple years older, was pushing a small toy truck in the snow. He was busy making designs from the tiny tire tracks. Again their grandmother called out to them, this time with that subtle edge in her voice that hinted at parental irritation.
“Coming!” Amy called, still minding her meticulously crafted balls of snow more so than her grandmother.
“What are you going to do with all those snowballs?” her brother asked her as he dusted off his jacket.
“Throw them, duh” she answered, thinking of their snowball fight last Christmas. An imaginary battle had taken place in the whole of their grandmother’s front yard. Amy had lost by just two imaginary casualties: her Raggedy Ann doll and her favorite yellow robot – they were laid up in the laundry room/infirmary for days.
She was still setting up the snowballs in neat piles when their grandmother called again. Amy quickly abandoned her work and ran after her brother toward the house. Before she passed the front gate, a slight movement in the snow caught her eye. She hesitated. At the base of the mailbox post shivered a tiny brown and white creature. Its ears were wet with snow and it kept its tail tucked against its small body. Amy held her breath. The imploring eyes finally looked up at her, too afraid to run away.
“A puppy!” Amy squealed.
Her grandmother came forward, stepping off the front porch and shaking her head.
“What on earth is that girl going on about this time?”
Amy slowly bent down. When the puppy didn’t move, she reached out. At this, the puppy scrambled backyard, burying himself deeper into the snow. Amy frowned.
“What’s all this?” Her grandmother knelt beside her, peering into the little mound before them.
“It’s a puppy, grandma. But he’s all by himself. And he won’t let me pet him.”
Her grandmother watched for a moment as the puppy-shaped pile continued to shiver.
“Run inside and get a piece of bacon from this morning’s leftovers” she instructed.
Without delay, Amy did as her grandmother said, surprising a confused Ivan who had then appeared in the doorway, retrieved a piece of bacon from the ice box and ran back outside. Her grandmother was still crouched in the same spot.
“Shh” she cautioned her granddaughter and held her hand out for the bacon. “This will have to do” she said quietly. She reached out slowly toward the puppy with the piece of bacon on her palm.
The small nose emerged first, the delicate black membrane wiggling as he sniffed out the proffered meat. Next came the small brown face with the imploring eyes, large shining eyes suddenly lit up with interest. He cautiously took a few steps forward, paws dusted with frost. The grandmother held perfectly still until the little creature finally came out of his hiding place and took the bacon in one lick. The grandmother carefully reached out and cupped the puppy in her hands – he was so small he fit perfectly inside them – and held him securely against her sweater.
Amy was hopping up and down as if it were Christmas morning. The girl’s heart was near to bursting with excitement. “Can we keep him, can we?”
“Calm down, child,” her grandmother admonished, “we don’t even know yet if he belongs to anyone.”
Back inside the warm kitchen, the grandmother instructed Amy to sit down near the stove which was still emanating heat and tucked the puppy in her granddaughter’s arms, placing a blanket over them both. Amy’s cheeks were flushed a rosy hue, her brimming smile making it all the more noticeable.
“You look red in the face” Ivan said as he took the chair next to her, peering into the little bundle she held in her arms. “How long do you think he’s been out there?”
“Couldn’t say,” their grandmother spoke up, stirring the pot of stew on the stove. “I can’t imagine he was outside for too long, otherwise he would be in far poorer condition, bless his heart. We’ll put a notice in the paper first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Aw, can’t we keep him?” Amy whined.
Her grandmother gave her a stern look. “Young lady, I’ve already told you. We do not know yet if he belongs to anyone. Now you and your brother better go find a secure box with blankets for him to sleep in and wash up for dinner.”
Frowning, Amy stood up from her chair and proceeded toward her bedroom, Ivan joining her. They found an old shipping box under her bed which had once held a collection of fairytale books. Now it would be outfitted as a dog bed. Amy chose three of her softest blankets for the puppy to sleep on, her brother contributing an old stuffed teddy bear as a bedtime companion for their new tiny guest. Finally nestled inside the box, in the warmth of the house, the puppy fell asleep right before their eyes.
After dinner, their grandmother read them a bedtime story about dragons and knights with God-given courage. Ivan listened intently, but all Amy could think of was her hope that she would be able to keep the puppy. She dreamed in her bed, next to the dreaming puppy, both at peace for the time being. Hope was such a fragile state for such small creatures as they. Amy did not want to deprive someone of finding their missing pet if he truly did belong to someone else. But at the same time she knew she already loved him, and made a wish that night. More than hoping for a porcelain tea set or a finely painted wooden sword to lead her imaginary troops in this year’s snowball fight against her brother, Amy wanted a puppy for Christmas. The stars seemed to answer her wish that night, twinkling as they did in the velvet night sky, but their voice was as soft as it always was, and not even the lonely night owl could hear them.
End of Part I
Another year has come and gone. Thank you to those who have been reading the blog posts, it is always much appreciated. I hope everyone has a great 2023 with their friends and family and furry four-legged loved ones. Happy New Year!
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