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Monday, December 26, 2011

How to Write a Christmas story

Christmas Eve:  the soft caroling by the organist using the quiet registers, the candles, the stained glass window receiving light and shadow . . .  I was in the choir loft enjoying the quiet moment.  Then the old stories were told once more from the pulpit.  Never mind that things didn't really happen like that, with angels on the hillside, the stable, the long journey to Bethlehem.  Truth is more than facts.  Truth is deeper, more real, believable.

I can picture the storytellers in committee, fashioning those old old themes, the narratives, the main characters. They come up with several different versions, choose two of them, and begin to fill in the gaps.  A dream works well for this:  let the dream be to the father-to-be, told by the Divine, that his fiancee is with child.  So the two of them marry and the woman grows into her own fullness.  Well, let's add more to this.  Look up the prophecies.  Oh, the location is needed, to set the scene. So wait until she is great with child and add a donkey or two, and send them on the way to Bethlehem, that little town the man's ancestors claimed as theirs. It's a good idea to merge the plots about here.  We'll add that this is registration time so lodging was at a premium.  Where shall this couple go then?  How about the stable where the animals live?  It's warm in there and we can pile up more straw in the manger where the cows come to eat. It makes a soft bed for a newborn.

Good idea to muffle the sounds of childbirth.  Keep this a solemn moment.  After all, here is the offspring of the Divine, foretold by ancients to lead a life that takes him to death.  Well, at least temporarily.  What do we need now?   Why not focus on those shepherds, the lowly ones.  But how?  Ahhh, do you hear what I hear?  time to add angels to all this, and the bright light that nearly outshines that other light, the Star that brightens the heavens.  Yes, this will set a wonderful scene.  Awesome.   Give them songs to sing.  Give them promises to sing to the world.  Let them sing praises to the Divine, the Holy One, the Maker of All That Is.  What an introduction to the entering One, the Promised One, the One of Mystery.  Yes, mystery.  We need not explain any of this.

And then . . . let's add some foreigners to show this isn't just a local story.  Make them very wise.  Make them seekers of a prophesy.  Make them wise in the way of the lights in the skies.  Have them follow the brightest of lights, as they make their way.  Add conflict here, with a meeting before the mighty king who fears any more powerful than he.  And so these wise ones keep traveling.  They will find more than they sought.  Let them know the significance of this one who lies in the straw.  There must be a way to protect this child from the evil king.  Ah yes.  A dream, of course.  Send a dream to these wise ones to find another way home.  They are not to return to the city of the king.  Dangers there abound.  Have the king issue an edict to kill all boy children lest one should usurp his throne.  Don't dwell on that tragedy taking place in the city.  We must focus on what has come to this earth.  Let us make this a story of one who will some day, some day, meet the death dreamed of since his very birth.  But we must not let that be the end of the story.  Let us tell it as the truth that is present in all the story.  Let us show that death did not kill him.  We must finally see him as alive forever.   Yes.  That is how we must tell this.  Yes. And yes.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Unexpected Kinship:Brownie and Winston


For a time, we rented a small house on a busy road.  A caramel-colored dog would come to our yard often, although we think he was from another home across the road from us.  We had lost a cat or two because of traffic, even with a fenced yard, and were not looking for another pet at that time.  We had plans for the home we would build on a mountain ridge next door to good friends, which would be a far better place for any pets, and were waiting for the completion of that house.  But the dog from across the road began coming frequently to our house so we decided to feed him.  Gradually, he did indeed become our dog, and we named him (appropriately) Brownie.  He would roam, however, and one time had a fierce encounter with some other dogs and limped home with many wounds.  The vet gave us medicine to treat his injuries and he survived that agony.  When we finally moved into our new home on the “mountain” he came with us.

Brownie was a wonderful companion for us and for our children.  One day he came down the long drive to our new place with a girl friend: a black and white dog who seemed friendly enough.  But we didn’t believe we could take in another dog at that time and gave her to some friends who lived in Madison, the town below us.  They named her Blackie.  One day soon afterwards, we got a call from our friends notifying us that Blackie was pregnant, and she must have been when Brownie brought her home, because she was almost due!  Blackie’s pups were adorable and all found homes quickly.  One went to a home near where we would be living after we sold our mountain home in order to be closer to school and the town events.  Blackie spent the rest of her life with our friends and was happy.  Unfortunately, I can't find our photos of Brownie.


I seem to be the only one in our family who acknowledges this, but the little dog who some years later wandered into our yard in Madison where we had moved a few years before, was a descendant of our Brownie!  It seems that an offspring of Blackie, who lived in town, had fathered the little pup.  As what I consider certain proof, not long after that dog appeared, whom we named Winston, a female pup showed up, just like Winston except for being black and white like Blackie, whereas Winston was caramel and white.  Same markings, same kind of voice, same size.  We were certain she was Winston’s sister, and we found a good home for her.  Their father was a neighborhood Romeo, we were told.  So to this day I am certain that our dear Brownie was Winston’s grandfather.

Winston lived 17 years, a smart and friendly member of our family, who got along well with our other dogs.  His one unbreakable habit was to dig out from under the fenced pen in our back yard  and take our other two dogs with him, to go exploring down town.  Fortunately, they were never hurt before I could find them and bring them back home!  A few months before Winston died, however, he managed to slip away one night when he was let out in the front yard instead of in the dog lot.  Someone found him several days later starting across the bridge that led out of town.  Because he was almost completely deaf and blind by then, it is really a miracle he survived.  A neighbor happened along and took Winston back toward our house, believing he might belong to us or to some family on our street.  The next morning, our next door neighbor, my husband’s brother, saw Winston slipping through the hedge to our house and went over to let him inside.  Winston then lived several more months.  He died at home.  I discovered him late one afternoon in our large dog lot when he didn’t come in for his supper after I called him.  He was a good dog.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Our Dog Murphey

As I work on my book about rescued and "found" animals, from time to time I'll share stories about the dogs we have had in our family (I won't say "owned."  Pets have more integrity than that!)

So today I'll tell you about our wonderful dog


One afternoon a strange dog wandered into our yard.  A mix of tan and dark brown fur, her front and back end seemed to belong to two different dogs.  She seemed to be put together by a committee.  We decided that was one dog too many for us, and ignored it.  The following day our son Dyson heard a great commotion of barking dogs down the hill from us, where the town ran its waste treatment plant, and kept stray dogs there temporarily.  He went down to investigate and found a number of dogs there, with one dog halfway under the fence and another trying to pull him back by his tail.  And in that company was the dog who had showed up at our place!  He reported on this, but we did not act on that information, hoping that somehow the local vet (who would be receiving these dogs soon to hold them for a few days) would find a home for the dog.  By that time we knew she was a female.

Guess who showed up the next day in our garage?  We called her to us, and Charlie happened to see her as well.  “No more dogs!”  he said in exasperation.  And then he looked at the dog again.  “Don’t show it to me again.   You two make the decision.  Dyson and I looked at each other, put the dog in our car, and off to the vet’s we went for a check-up, shots and whatever else might be needed to get the newcomer cleared for living with us.  On the way we passed Murphey Street, named for the founder of our town, and said together, “Murphey is her name!"

We did make one attempt to find a good home for her, but the family who took her returned her saying she barked and barked at their parakeet and this just wouldn’t work.  So Murphey became our dog.  She had little to offer us in return but her loyalty, her permission for us to love her as much as we could, and to let her lick our toes.  Murphey got into some scrapes along the way, such as the time she trotted down our long driveway one afternoon so covered with river mud that all we could see were two eyes and a nose.  It took over an hour to clean her up.  Another time she and Winston went under our house via the crawl space, after some critter, and Murphey was afraid to come back out.  She remained there all night, and we could hear her bark every so often as the sound traveled along our heating ducts.  Charlie had to crawl under the full length of the house the next morning, past various dead rodents along the way.  But finally Murphey was once again with us and the entrances to the crawl spaces were barred.  A day or so later we discovered one act of bravery Murphey performed while under our house:  the strong smell of dead snake came through our heating vents.

She loved to dig out under the dog lot fence, with our dogs Winston and our Westie Zelda to roam the town. In fact, she was an expert at getting through any fenced area we had around our yard.  But she survived all her escapades, lived to be about 13, and died peacefully at home.  She had a good life.