Henry was our early marriage dog. As with many newlywed couples, anxious to nurture something but knowing it was too soon for that thing to be a baby, Gary and I adopted Henry. Gary was doing his pharmacy residency at McCook’s Pharmacy in South Macon, an area known as the Rutland Community. Being a good old boy, Gary fit right in at McCook’s, a place where patrons brought in cooked-to-perfection turnip greens and warm-from-the-garden tomatoes to share with the people who worked there. At some point, someone mentioned that a lady had some pure-bred beagle puppies she was going to sell for next to nothing, so we went and picked one out .
I have lots of stories about Henry, about our moves with him to South Carolina and back, about the fence we bought to keep him in, about all the flowers he pulled up in that fenced-in yard, about the many times I had to bail him out of the pound when he dug under that fence. But the story I’m going to tell now is one that’s appropriate for the season and one that exemplifies what typically seems to happen to my best laid and made holiday plans. And that story is the one about Henry and the runaway Christmas tree.
Henry was a sweet dog, but stupid. When the human babies started arriving, he accepted those annoying hiccups in his life plan pretty well as little ones grabbed his hairy nose and black dog lips and tried to ride on his speckled back. However, I do believe that all this mayhem did serve to make poor Henry a little nervous. If he’d been a person, he might have developed a nervous tic or perhaps a smoking habit. In addition, the more crowded the house became, the less attention Henry received from the people who had promised to cherish him just a few years earlier. Whereas, before the kids came along, he could depend on a bowl of clean water and fresh gruel each morning and evening, that expectation eroded as changing diapers and spooning baby food took energy and focus away from caring for the dog.
But, in spite of his less than stellar cerebral cortex, Henry adapted. He took to eating off the floor, taking advantage of the messes the children made, the milk-engorged Cheerios, the dust-covered cracker crumbs, a tasty bit of pre-chewed weenie. As for water, he got it wherever he could find it, from mud puddles, toilets, the occasionally-mopped kitchen floor.
As the holidays approached one Christmas and preparations were underway, Henry was in dog heaven with actual baking going on and butter and chocolate dropping in giant glorious globs upon the floor. And then there was the real tree, adorned with candy canes, chewy and delicious despite their cellophane wrappings, and the tree itself sitting in its very own reservoir of water. Not stopping to reflect on the unfairness of a newly-arrived stalk of future pine straw getting preferential treatment over the family dog, Henry, pragmatic soul that he was, decided to feast upon the waters that sustained that Christmas tree.
This water poaching went on for quite a while with my knowledge until ultimately the irresistible force met the immovable object when Gary happened upon Henry in mid drink on none other than Christmas Eve, its divine self. A chase quickly ensued as Henry's collar, striving as we all do to make a some kind of connection to another entity, linked itself to one of the strings of Christmas lights that gave the tree its shine.
All I saw as I arrived from the kitchen, covered in sugar and sweat and wondering just what this particular ruckus could have possibly been about, was Henry and the Christmas tree rounding the corner and careening down the hall in an attempt to find refuge under a bed.
At that point, if he could have, if he'd just had the words and the cultural history and a brain large enough for rote memory skills, Henry might have had the courage and the abandon to render the following from Clement Moore:
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"
And although he didn't, I do have all those things and, since I'm not hiding under a bed with a Christmas tree ruefully attached to my collar, that's exactly what I offer to you.