Over the weekend, we hauled out the holiday box from the storage area beneath the staircase. I rifled through our collection of aged and tacky trinkets that, when properly placed, give our home a shabby yet festive flair. I am loath to purchase funky and updated holiday décor because 1) we live in the middle of nowhere and rarely have visitors and 2) I am in the process of updating my opinion of Christmas.
Nonetheless, we decorated the house and put up the tree in the family room downstairs. In the winter months, this area is our hang-out zone. The woodstove, which blazes constantly once the weather turns cold, and the ultra-comfy couch constitute a one-two punch that simply can’t be ignored when it comes to doing lots of nothing. When the wind drives snow into the inside corners of our windows, we descend to this cozy room to stare blankly at the TV and to take delicious weekend naps. It’s also where we display our typically small and spindly Christmas tree.
Our backyard Christmas card.
Since we live in Montana, surrounded by US Forest Service land, we have millions of acres of potential holiday trees begging for the ax. Years ago, we’d strap on cross country skis and spend hours hunting for the perfect tree. Nowadays, we figure that most any tree will suffice as long as it fits into its designated spot. That spot demands a short tree, and it’s a universally accepted fact that a short tree will have wimpy branches unable to hold heavy ornaments. Thus, we’ve adopted a lights-only approach for our Christmas tree.
Once the tree is hauled home, propped upright in its stand, draped in lights — and all the errant needles are sucked up by my voracious Dyson vacuum — the Christmas pig assumes his traditional position beneath the boughs.
The Christmas pig was gift from my Midwestern parents who have a knack for purchasing items that scream, “I drink cheap BEER !” The pig is of the same ilk as the iconic Billy Bass, a plastic mechanical fish mounted on a plaque that sashays its tail fin and sings the catchy ditty Take Me to the River. In his heyday, Billy Bass was ubiquitous and adorned every paneled and red carpeted Midwestern rec room, and every workman’s tavern. Thanks to my generous parents, Billy Bass lurks beneath our staircase in the same storage area that houses our holiday chotchkes.
The Christmas pig is a plush porcine, about two feet tall, soft and cuddly with a matching holiday scarf and stocking hat. He’s cute and he’s festive, and until he was attacked and maimed by one of the dogs, he used to sing a delightful “oink” rendition of Jingle Bells. Since the day of the attack, he’s been a silent pig. From where the sun now stands, he will sing no more forever.
Our old dog, Krueger, was tormented by the pig and it was she who destroyed his electronic singing gear was a decisive chomp. We have two young dogs now who are reintroduced to the pig each holiday season. Gunny, our tall gangly chocolate lab, doesn’t seem to mind the pig. When the pig reclaims his spot beneath the tree, Gunny gives him a cursory sniff and then goes on her merry way. But Sadie is another story. Sweet Sadie, our endearing black pocket lab who is nothing but love incarnate, quite simply HATES the pig. She can’t walk past him without nosing, nudging and eventually knocking him over. When we witness this undeserved bullying, we hurry to the pig’s rescue.
Inevitably, though, while we’re at work pig mayhem commences. In my mind’s eye, I can envision the carnage:
It’s midmorning and I see Sadie yawning, groaning and stretching from her luxurious position atop our bed. Sadie rolls over into Gunny who has likewise commandeered the bed, and Gunny’s tail whaps the down comforter. The big chocolate dawg lifts her head and sniffs Sadie.
“Whattup?” Gunny asks.
Sadie gives Gunny a deceptively sweet look, and a tentative face-lick.
“Nothin’,” Sadie replies.
A black paw pokes a brown tail. A brown paw pokes back. A black mouth nibbles on a brown lip. Tails wag. Growling ensues. White teeth flash.
Sadie surely flees the bed first, performing a controlled butt-tuck run around the main floor of the house. She scoots around the dining room table and behind the couch, hopping over lamp cords and around end tables with astounding agility. Sadie is small and her athletic body is efficient; no movement is wasted.
With wry amusement, Gunny observes Sadie, but doesn’t move. Yet.
Sadie’s mad dash around the furniture ends with a final leap back atop the bed.
That last jump is a powerful tease and Gunny’s reserve is gone. She joins in the mayhem, unfolding her long limbs and clambering off the bed to pursue Sadie. The big dog galumphs through the small house and the two delight in raucous fun.
I sit 40 miles away behind my office desk, and picture this scene with amazing clarity. I know these dogs. I know their penchants, their circadian rhythms, their preferred nap locations, their favorite toys and their antics. I know who is naughty and who is nice. I know who prefers a tennis ball and who prefers a stick. I know which dog likes a tangy sauce and which will inhale the errant olive that falls from the countertop. One eats grass and one doesn’t. One produces a single pile of poop and one leaves a trail of turds. One chases sticks tossed into the river and one pursues skipping stones. I know these dogs and I can imagine so surely how they while away a day spent alone that when I walk into the house after my workday commute, nothing surprises me. Nothing.
This day, I returned from work, greeted the dogs and scanned the upstairs to determine who did what during my absence. Nothing was amiss. All holiday decorations were intact and unmolested. I dropped my briefcase, hung up my coat and trotted downstairs to toss some logs into the woodstove. I passed the Christmas tree and stopped. One Christmas pig was gone. I pivoted on my heels to a complete view of the family room.
The pig had been mutilated. His fiberfill stuffing had been pulled out from a hole ripped into his armpit. His stocking hat lay against the dogs’ waterbowl. His scarf was ridiculously stretched, covered in spit and tossed in a corner. The pig himself, empty of any guts and now simply plush skin, was smashed against a wall. And, in the middle of the carpet — what’s this dark nugget? An errant dog poop? No…that’s a pig eye torn from the pig face.
Big Gunny knew the gig was up. Her ears were down and she cowered behind me. Surely this massacre wasn’t her doing. It was the other dog, the angelically sweet mutt with the coal black nose. My eyes rested on Sadie. A smile covered her entire mug and her tail was wagging at warp speed. She didn’t care one bit that the Christmas pig was no more. Didn’t bug her at all.
“So what?” she seemed to say. “Who needs a pig?”
I gathered the fiberfill and re-stuffed the pig. I washed his stocking hat and scarf, so they wouldn’t be stiff with dried dog saliva. I sewed up the gaping armpit hole and re-attached the eye. I propped the pig back into place. He’s been through battle, and he looks like it, too. But it wouldn’t be Christmas without the Christmas pig.
I have a beautiful, hand-carved wooden nativity scene that my sister-in-law bought for me in Germany. Little baby Jesus nestles sweetly in his manger, and can be repositioned in Mary’s lap. The nativity is placed on a low coffee table. During her first Christmas with us and while she was home alone, a very young Gunny gently stuck out her lizard tongue and with surgical precision, plucked Jesus from his manger…without moving any of the other nativity figures. She then chewed Jesus enough to turn him into a clump of wood, and spit him out onto the carpet – which is where I found him when I returned from work.
Jesus is as deformed as the Christmas pig, and while you can still recognize the pig as being a pig – Jesus isn’t so lucky.