There was a fracas at the door and shouts of “Gangway!” My father, his face flushed and with snow on his cap, held the base of a tree in his arms. Some of his friends, also with snow on their caps and shoulders, held the tip as they plowed through the crowd across the room to the front corner by the window. They set the tree to a stand and I laughed out loud. It was the spindly tree that Miller had cut. Miller ran to the tree and stood spread-eagled, staring at it. His joy at seeing it could not be contained. And, too, his pride.
“I cut it down myself!” he announced to the cheers of all who heard. “It’s the best Christmas tree ever!”
My father and his friends exchanged glances and chortled. No one would ever say a word against that puny tree.
More people were coming in and it was a bedlam of joy, greetings, and smiles. From a quieter corner where I stood with Thor at my side and a beer in my hand, I spotted Mrs. Davidson entering the house with Dill at her side. Her eyes were bright as she scanned the room. In her arms she was carrying a big, brown-eyed Labrador puppy.
“There he is!” Dill shouted, and shot forward through the crowd, calling out, “Miller! Miller!”
I grabbed Mama’s arm and pointed her in the direction of Mrs. Davidson.
Her eyes widened and she looked around the room excitedly. “Oh my! Where’s Miller?”
I took her arm and guided her to the corner where Daddy and Miller were standing. Mrs. Davidson was making a beeline for them as well. We all met at the tree.
“Miller, look who’s here!” Mama exclaimed.
Miller already knew. His eyes were fixed on the puppy in stunned surprise. He looked as if he could’ve been knocked over by one of those soft, fat snowflakes.
Mrs. Davidson spoke to Cap. “I’d heard about what happened.”
Alistair cleared his throat and leaned closer to Mrs. Davidson. He spoke quietly, but standing so close to her, I couldn’t help but overhear.
“I’m, uh, sorry, but I wasn’t paid for the job yet. I can’t pay you till after Christmas.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” Mrs. Davidson grinned. “You don’t think I’d let a little thing like that stand in the way of your Christmas gift! We’re friends!”
I saw my father’s mouth slip into a crooked grin of humble gratitude. “I’m obliged” was all he could get out.
Mrs. Davidson slipped the puppy into Alistair’s arms. The puppy grunted and looked around the room with a bewildered expression. Thor came up to sniff the puppy’s bottom, which made the puppy press away from the mighty nose.
Mrs. Davidson said, “I think you’re the one who should hand over the puppy. It’s your gift, after all.”
Mama pressed Brenda Davidson’s arm. “What’s going on?” she asked sotto voce.
Mrs. Davidson’s face was filled with emotion. “Cap wanted it to be a surprise. He made a down payment on this puppy weeks ago. But bless his heart, he made me promise not to tell anyone. It wasn’t easy. I wanted to tell you that day Miller came to the house, but I just couldn’t.”
Mama put her fingers to her mouth and turned, eyes filling, to stare at Alistair. So did I. The jig was up. We all knew now why Daddy had been so devastated at not being paid before Christmas. The old Scrooge had planned a big surprise that would mean the world to all of us.
“Merry Christmas!” Mrs. Davidson said in a rush, and kissed Mama’s cheek.
Alistair’s smile was shaky and he seemed a bit shy as he turned to face Miller and held out the puppy. “Merry Christmas, Son.”
Miller’s face was pale with disbelief. Behind him, Dill was grinning ear to ear, no doubt relieved to be able to share the secret at long last. He nudged Miller forward. “Go on. Get him!”
Miller stumbled forward and reached out his arms. Alistair carefully shifted the puppy into them. Miller closed his eyes and laughed as the puppy began licking his eyes, his nose, his face, in excitement.
“Careful he doesn’t pee on you,” Dill said.
“I don’t care if he does,” Miller replied, laughing.
Mama walked swiftly to Alistair and put her arms around him. “Thank you. Thank you for the best Christmas.”
Someone turned on Mama’s CD player, and Bing Crosby sang out “White Christmas” through the room. The irony was lost on no one as everyone burst out laughing and toasted the snow. Now that Miller was safe at home, we could all relax and enjoy the rare sight of the flakes gracefully swirling in the night air outside our windows.
Everyone started to sing with the crescendo of the song. I led Thor through the room, grabbed my coat from the back of a chair, and, slipping it on, walked out the front door. The crisp, cool air felt fresh and welcome after the press of the crowd. I couldn’t have endured it without Thor. My hand had never left the soft fur of Thor’s neck throughout the emotional scenes. But it was all good, I thought to myself, breathing out a plume of air in relief.
The snow fell soundlessly around me. I appreciated the relative silence, broken only by the muffled sound of the party’s singing. I pulled up the collar of my coat and walked with Thor trotting happily at my side, down the front walkway to the sidewalk.
“Which way?” I asked Thor.
He looked up at me, total trust in my decision shining in his eyes.
I grinned. “Right, then.” I paused to look in the front windows of my home. I caught a glimpse of the spindly tree and, beside it, Daddy standing with his arm around Mama. Miller was still holding his puppy, and I laughed, imagining he wouldn’t let go of that pup all night.
I looked around at the dark night. The streetlamps illuminated the white flakes as they twisted and twirled in the air, so fat they looked like feathers falling from the sky. “A white Christmas,” I said aloud, hearing the disbelief in my voice. I stood and watched the flakes fall for several minutes, feeling the rarity of the moment. Even the magic. We all knew the snow wouldn’t last. It might even melt at sunrise.
But for tonight, everyone agreed it was a miracle.
I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!
—Scrooge, A Christmas Carol
CHRISTMAS EVE 2015
SEA BREEZE, SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, SC
The doorbell of Sea Breeze rang. Thor jumped up and barked his warning, then immediately trotted off to the front door. The baby startled at the noise and commenced crying. Harper cooed and brought the baby up to her shoulder.