The Best Christmas
written by: Dawn DeBraal
The neighbor’s dog had puppies. They were so cute. Little balls of fur, their eyes weren’t even open yet. Kevin’s parents kept them in the barn. She had two puppies, and Queenie was a good mom.
“Here, pick it up,” Kevin handed me the warm bundle of fuzz. I put it up to my face and breathed in its scent.
“I wished I could get a dog,” my heart ached for a pet. Cats just weren’t the same as a dog.
“What would you name him?”
“Prince, because his mother is Queenie!”
“Maybe you could take one,” Kevin offered. I shook my head, no. I didn’t even dare to ask. My parents told me they didn’t want a dog. Too expensive to care for, we were in a Depression. The pup squirmed in my hand, so I put him down next to his mother.
“Good girl, Queenie. I love your puppies. Good night, sweet Prince.” Queenie’s tail thumped up and down on the floor. I always liked this dog; she was a good one. Kevin’s dad was mad when he caught Brownie, Ventnors’ wayward dog, all over Queenie one day. He dragged that dog on a rope tied to his collar across the field and told the Ventnors to keep their dog on their property. They hadn’t talked since the argument.
“Will your Dad ever forgive Brownie?” I asked Kevin. It was November, and we could see our breath as we walked outside. Kevin locked the door.
“I don’t know. My parents are pretty mad about it. Now we have to find homes for two puppies. Dad said, we’ll get her fixed after this.”
“Fixed? Is she broken?” Kevin, who was ten, was so much more mature than me.
“No, it means they fix it so she can’t have puppies anymore.” I wondered how they did that, and why didn’t Kevin’s dad do that before all of this happened. They’d be talking to the neighbors at least.
Even after Thanksgiving came and went; Kevin’s parents didn’t talk to the Ventnors. It was a strain on the neighborhood. No one could talk to the Shultzs about the Ventnors and vice-versa.
It was hard concentrating in school. I was excited, dreaming about what presents I’d get for Christmas, but Mom and Dad already talked to me about we didn’t have money. There wouldn’t be much of a Christmas because of the Depression. It was depressing. We were supposed to make homemade gifts this year.
I racked my brain on what I could give Kevin and his parents. Connie, my older sister, and her family weren’t coming home this year because there was no money for gas. My dad told me we were lucky to live on a farm. It provided us with everything we needed.
When Kevin and I walked home, his father had a sleigh hooked up to Daisy, a big Percheron. We climbed into the wagon, he told us we were going to cut Christmas trees, and he would bring me home.
Daisy huffed down the snow-covered road pulling the wagon with ease. Mr. Schultz stopped her and took out a bow saw. We went into the woods, where we picked out some fine trees.
“Aren’t we getting one for the Ventnors?” I asked, forgetting about the big fight. I turned red and held my breath. We’d done this every year with Mr. Schultz. He’d cut three trees and deliver them. Kevin’s dad pursed his lips, not wanting to break the spell. He silently walked back into the woods and came out with another tree.
The Schultzs dropped me off. Mom and Dad came out, thanking for the tree, and they waved goodbye to them. Dad already had the tree stand set up in the front parlor. He put the tree where we always set it between two small hooks permanently embedded in the walls. Baling twine was tied on each hook after it ran through the tree. Our cat climbed the tree and broke all the ornaments the year the hooks went into the walls. Though the Ventnors had electricity, the Schultzs and we didn’t. Mom put a few candles with clips as the finishing touch. We would light them on Christmas eve, and not before. It was dangerous to have candles on a tree, and someone had to be in the room all the time.
I sewed a cross-stitch for Kevin’s family, embroidering Schultz inside the wreath, stretching it out on a wooden hoop that I’d found in the barn. Mom found some green material and hemmed it up on the treadle machine, and I attached it to the hoop. It looked very nice. I did the same for Ventnors. I was incredibly proud of the gifts I made to give my neighbors. They could take my gift out each Christmas and put it on their doors. I wrapped them both in brown paper and painted a bright red bow on them.
For Kevin, I knitted a scarf. It wasn’t perfectly straight, but I made sure it was the color of his coat. He was forever running around with the wind on his neck. I didn’t put tassels on it as I did for Mary Jane Ventnor. Hers was a lovely mauve color. It turned out better because it was the second scarf I’d made. I’d gotten better with practice.
I overheard Mom and Dad talk one night about the Ventnors not hosting the neighbor party this year. All because of Brownie and Queenie. We didn’t have a dog, so maybe that was a good thing if having a dog broke up neighbors. I wondered why two families who were so close would allow something like this to come between them. I also loved going to the Ventnors, for they had real Christmas lights on their tree.
The last day before Christmas Vacation, Mary Jane, Kevin, and I walked down the road.
“Brownie!” Mary Jane cried. Someone had hit him with a car. He was stiff and sticking out of the snowdrift. Mary Jane fell to her knees. Kevin pulled the dog out of the bank, and he dragged Brownie up the driveway like a sled.
I hugged my friend though there was no consoling her. Brownie was a runner. We all knew that. It was only a matter of time before he got hit by a car or shot by an angry deer hunter. Kevin and I walked toward home quickly as the sky were getting dark, and I still had the farthest to walk.
“Do you want me to go with you?” He asked.
“No, I will be fine. No sense in both of us being out this late.” I trotted down the road; I could make out my mailbox on the corner.
My breath came out in clouds as I trotted along. The run made me feel warm in the crisp night air; my boots crunched in the snow under me with a rhythmic beat. I closed my eyes and sang Christmas Carols.
The car came around the corner, swerving in the snow. It was going too fast. I didn’t open my eyes until the last minute. It barely scraped me, but I was thrown to the ground. I felt like Brownie must have felt as I lay on the side of the road.
It never stopped; they probably never knew they’d knocked me over. Mom already down the driveway looking for me when I didn’t get home earlier, saw the whole thing. Dad came out when he heard her screams. He picked me up and carried me to the house.
My leg was broken. Dr. Mueller came out and put it in a cast. No walking for a few weeks. My whole Christmas vacation was going to be spent in the house. I cried not because it hurt bad but because Christmas was ruined. It was all my fault for not paying attention.
Christmas morning, we opened the few gifts there were. Mr. Ventnor stopped by and told us he was going to host the party after all. I guess everyone felt terrible about Brownie and me. Schutzs and Ventnors had come together again as friends and neighbors.
Mr. Schultz had dropped that Christmas tree we cut a few weeks ago in Ventnors’ front yard. That garnered a thank you because they knew Mr. Schultz was the person who’d given that tree. The olive branch had been extended.
I lay in the back seat as my parents drove to Ventnors. I had the gifts I’d made, excited to be leaving the house after being bedridden. Dad carried me into the house. And there was one of Queenie’s puppies in the living room.
“Oh, he is so cute!” I squealed in delight as my Dad sat me on the couch. The puppy danced around me.
“The Schultzs gave him to us, it’s Brownie’s puppy. We still have a piece of him with us.” Mary Jane smiled. I was happy for her and happy for all of us. We were neighbors again.
The Schultzs and Ventnors liked their wreaths, and Kevin and Mary Jane said they loved their scarves. Mary Jane made a bracelet she strung from beads and tied it on my wrist. Kevin excused himself and was gone for a bit, but then he returned with a box in his hand and set it before me.
“Here’s your Christmas present.” I tore off the newspapers, and there was a little puppy, a fuzzball, roly poly puppy. I looked at Mom and Dad, who never wanted a dog, but they had tears in their eyes. My mother nodded “yes,” and I picked up the little guy and hugged him.
We were poor that December of 1933. The world around us lacked during the Depression, but we were rich together as neighbors and family. It was the best Christmas I ever had, bonding again with those who were closest to us and getting my best friend, a puppy I called Prince.
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