ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS

Ruth felt the pressure building in her head again and turned the radio down. Between the holiday traffic, the radio noise, and the on-going clamor in her head, Ruth was experiencing input overload. She sighed, dared to take one hand from the wheel to rub the back of her neck.

So this is Christmas. Fa-la-la.

She thought of the gifts planned for her children – all from the electronics store – games, systems, hand-held this and that. Ruth frowned, picturing her kids as they usually were in the back of the mini-van: plugged in, turned on, tuned out. But at least they were quiet.

Ruth’s frowned deepened. She pictured the family at the breakfast table that morning. Did they even speak? The television was on, of course, but had they even looked at it? And, speaking of table, when was the last time they’d had dinner together around the table? “Together” was now in the same room – the livingroom – watching the same show but not even to the finish. Once food was done, they were up and out, running off to different computers or systems.

Ruth turned toward the city-sized electronics store. As she did, her eye caught another sign and she slowed, turning into the smaller lot and stopping the car. Surprised by her own actions, her head tipped to the side as the thought that started with the reading of the sign blossomed and grew until it took up the portion of her brain that had been filled with static and fog.

Christmas just changed.

***

“Only ONE present each under the tree?” It was Britt, the oldest at twelve.

“Man…” Steven whined in his perfect seven-year-old way.

“Santa must be bringing the big stuff, huh Mom?” nine-year-old Timothy said hopefully.

Ruth shook her head. “Santa and I have a special deal this year,” she said. “You’re picking out your own present.”

When the chorus of happy shouting died down, she added, “But it’s one present for all three of you. Well, all four of us, really. You have to share.”

The children looked at each other dubiously. Then Britt asked, “When do we get it?”

“Tomorrow. Christmas Eve. We’ll be going to the store in the morning.” She walked away, acknowledging a little worry, but smiling to herself as they huddled together, discussing options.

The next day, the children were up, dressed, and ready in record time. As they piled into the car, they didn’t even bother to turn on the in-car video, and Ruth noticed no games in anyone’s hands. Their talking got louder as they got to the first large store, then louder still as they drove past it.

“Hey!” Steven hollered. “What store are we going to anyway?”

“You’ll see!” Ruth crossed two fingers and finally pulled into the lot, dodging the potholes and parking near the door.

There was silence in the backseat.

“Okay!” Ruth said cheerily, “here we are!”

“What is this?” Timothy asked.

Ruth turned in the seat. All her children were frowning out the window at the decrepit building.

“This is the animal shelter. Santa and I think you guys need a dog.”

The realization hit them according to their ages, Britt first. By the time Steven caught on to what she’d said, the explosion of noise was almost deafening.

What followed was a three-hour process of walking and talking and petting and oohing and aahing and laughing and even crying as every single puppy and dog in the place was considered for family membership. When the painstaking and sometimes painful process was over, a medium-sized nondescript yellow dog with highly expressive big brown eyes was led out to the van by his new family.

Ruth drove to the nearest department store and left the boys in the van while she and Britt ran in to purchase a collar, leash, bowls, and food. Britt ran to the van ahead of Ruth, anxious to get back to the dog who greeted her with lolling tongue and wagging tail.

The dog sat happily in the middle of the seat, accessible to each child, leaning occasionally toward one or the other to make sure little fingers could reach previously unscratched places. The sounds of his ecstatic panting grew with their noisy clamoring, now focused on what to name him.

Ruth sighed and smiled, her whole being filled with a warmth and peace she hadn’t felt in ages. She pictured the days ahead – playing, walking, feeding, bathing, petting, training. Her visions of them hurrying in from school, anxious to greet and be greeted, of sitting again around the family table, the dog under it, looking eagerly for a surreptitious hand offering a treat, the dog grinning up at her from whichever bed he was coerced to that night, would all be realized in the weeks ahead. The electronics and their ensuing people silence would not be gone, of course, but would take a blissful second place. Maybe they needed a hamster, too…. Or a parrot….

“Hey Mom!” It was Timothy. “What were those three gifts the wise men brought Jesus? Gold…”

“Frankincense and myrrh,” Ruth finished.

By the time they got home, the dog who had gone from an unwanted street-wanderer to the king of the world was named Frank.

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