A Christmas Story

I’m not sure what year it was, but we were north of Toronto near my cottage. We were deep in a forest, surrounded by fluffy white snow everywhere. I was a young kid, wrapped up to my head in winter wear. I looked like a Canadian ninja, dressed in a blue, snowflake patterned toque, positioned just above my eyes. My Toronto Maple Leafs scarf was up over my mouth and nose to the bottom of my eyes. We were surrounded by hundreds of fraser and balsam fir, mixed in with a fair number of scotch pine and spruce trees. The dusk sun was on the cusp of setting, and the snow reflected the dark blue from the sky above. Santa was up there somewhere, getting ready to visit us in just another couple of weeks.

On the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree

My step-brother, Andy was there, along with my brother, Mike and my Dad. Together we were on the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree to bring back to the cottage and decorate for St. Nick himself. As we wandered through the snow-covered tree farm we reached a crossroads. A large path split the forest in half. We stood there together, frozen for a moment, anticipating something.

Suddenly, a pack of barking, snorting, dogs appeared from out of the darkness. They ran quickly toward us, along the path, huffing, and puffing. One large cloud of carbon dioxide floated above the dogs as they exhaled quick breathes. Suddenly a man’s voice could be heard, “Whoa!” he yelled to the dogs. They came to a complete stop right in front of us. We were all dumbfounded.

Two beautiful brown gems happily glared back to us.

The large man behind the sled smiled. His eight huskies stood anxiously awaiting further instruction. The musher looked at us and asked if we liked his dogs. He assured us that it was fine to go over to pet them. Like a magical magnet, we were all instantly drawn to one particular dog. He had the thick white and gray fur one would expect from a Siberian Husky. However, his eyes were both hazel brown. The breed is best known for their piercing, blue eyes. Some huskies have one blue and one brown eye, but not this one. Two beautiful brown gems happily glared back to us.

His eyes seemed to smile to us as we all gathered around to pet him. The dog runner glanced down and noted our fondness for the individual dog. “It sure looks like they like that one, eh?” he said to my dad.

My dad replied in agreement, “They sure do. He’s one hell of a good looking dog.”

“You guys want him?” The musher asked. The freezing wind abruptly stopped. The forest became silent. My siblings and I stared from the dog up to my dad. We had never owned a dog before. The man unzipped his parka and reached into his pocket for a business card. “If you want him, give me a call. That one is for sale.”

Before my dad could answer him, he yelled, “Mush! Hike! All right! Let’s go!” and the dogs jumped up and were off like lightening. They left the scene so quickly it felt like the whole thing had been a winter dream. We stood there staring into the distance as the dog sled disappeared. The snow fell faster from the heavens.

I don’t recall selecting a tree, cutting it down, strapping it to the roof, or any monetary exchange for the tree. No, all I remember is what happened next. The snow fell silently into the windshield as we drove through the night. The ride was quiet as millions of flakes endlessly flew toward us. It was as if the snow had hypnotized my dad. He turned from glaring at his headlights on the dark road and asked, “Do you guys want a dog?”

“I was going to kill him next week.”

A few days later we drove up the long driveway of the dog musher’s home. We were shocked to see so many dog houses surrounded by fencing. The volume of the barking dogs was ear piercing as we trudged through the slush and brown, muddy snow to the front door. The man greeted us and we entered his rustic home. My dad and the man sat at his kitchen table. We walked around looking at the dogs, searching for the one we had found that night at the tree farm.

My dad made the check out for $500, as the man left to retrieve our dog — our first dog. As we were departing the musher smiled and put his hand on my dad’s shoulder. “You know, I’m glad you bought that one… I was going to kill him next week.”

As it turns out, Teddy, wasn’t the best sled dog and that was going to be his fate. Luckily (for him and for us), he was the best first dog a family could own. I have no recollection of what Christmas gifts I received that year. I don’t even remember what the tree looked like. All I remember is that was the year Teddy joined our family. We had many great years with him. Now he’s up there somewhere, beyond the North Pole, above the snow and the clouds, in the sky, far over that tree farm.

Merry Christmas, Teddy. Happy Holidays to you too.

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