A Merry Little Christmas

I don’t remember, when we were young, if we had a real Christmas tree or a fake one. My mother loved the white synthetic tree with multi colored lights we had when it was my first or second holiday season, but that one I only remember from pictures. I do remember, though, the squat little tree (more akin to a bush, really) that was the centerpiece of my first grown up Christmas.

I had flown to Italy a week or two before Christmas to stay in my future house with my then husband. My first night there we opened a bottle of sparkling wine gifted to us by our landlord and nearly froze to death in our marble floored, stucco walled town-home. We bought the tree-bush the next day. Ornaments were scarce, given that my boxes hadn’t been shipped yet, so we hung whatever odd things appealed to us on the tree alongside one or two actual ornaments. The cork from our inaugural bottle of vino, with a needle and thread from a pocket sewing kit looped and stuck squarely into the center, worked perfectly. I still have that cork and I still hang it on my tree.

Our first Christmas in The States we were going to be traveling, or he was going to be out on the ship. I don’t remember exactly, but I do remember coming home from work when he’d already gone away. There – on the huge vintage chalkboard that hung over our dining room table – was a bare chalk-sketched Evergreen with written instruction for me to decorate it before he got back. I did just that, drawing in red orbs, gold garland, and a star on top, of course.

I don’t think we had another tree of our own after that.

The next tree I remember, I was 100 months pregnant and I went to ACE Hardware on Merrimon and picked just the one. I loaded it into the back of my SUV and lugged it into my house and set it up myself. My son would be born any time between then and Christmas and I wanted there to be a tree (Christmas nesting was the best nesting). I wanted to sit alone (save for my dogs/constant companions) on those last few quiet evenings and feel him in my belly and watch the lights and the glitter and be comforted by this sweet symbol of “home” and “family” in the midst of forging my own version of both. This is the tree in the background of my son’s first family photos. I remember that tree.

I went back to ACE on Merrimon when my son was just shy of two. He picked the tree, we decorated it together and admired our work afterward and every day, really, until we took it down. The next year it was the same, only this time I did most of the decorating by myself. Something about this year was different and Christmas suddenly felt sad. I found myself thinking “I hope this is the last year we do this alone.”

The next Christmas I drew Charlie a chalkboard tree. He was none the wiser to my previous chalkboard tree. He thought it was as wonderful as I had the first go-round.

This year I put off getting a tree for a few days because I get heavy hearted, remembering. Nearly freezing my first married Christmas. Nesting. Determined that that Christmas two years ago would be our last one with just the two of us. After a few days of putting it off, though, I have a tree up in our living room, from ACE on Merrimon although it’s many miles out of the way now. It’s just a little taller than me and it’s full but compact and proportional. The very tallest center branch, though, is spindly and sticks far above the top tier of evenly spaced fir spokes. I cut off the ties and set it in the stand and gave it some time to settle. Charlie came home from his dad’s and insisted that we start, not with the lights, but with the star. (Why wait?)

When he placed the star on that spindly, tall, tree top it fell so lopsided that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I didn’t fix it, or trim the top so it sits upright and centers itself. I just left it, holding my nearly five year old son, giggling together at the Suess-ian tree top. “I like it!” I said, still laughing. “It’s a shooting star! Look!” he said.

These days of “just the two of us” might have their moments that leave me feeling a bit isolated. Longing may linger a bit more than I’d like. If I don’t avoid it and if I can learn to sit with all of the feelings and heart weight that come with the season I might learn something deeper, something more significant about myself. If I can look at my crooked tree top with it’s shooting star and feel absolute joy in it – a purely “just us two” moment – then I think I’m on the right path. At the very least, this will be a year with a tree I remember.





I was fresh off the plane, having landed only a dozen hours prior. At my husband’s coworker’s place (his wife picked me up from the airport since my husband was working) I’d showered, changed clothes, and put my hair in a ponytail. I looked different in the light of their bathroom mirror, different than in the mirror at my mom’s house, or in the airport bathroom, or even the lavatory on the fourteen hour flight over. It must have been the tired tax of the intercontinental travel, I thought. I can’t exactly explain my nervousness, waiting for him to pick me up. I was waiting, knowing that everything about my life was changed now. I was so happy to see him, and then more nerves settled in as we drove to our townhome. 181 Via Stafetta, Parco Scipione.

We pulled up to the gate and waited as it opened. We drove past floral vines in bloom and a few fruit-bearing trees to our driveway. My husband got out. Unlatched our gate. Parked our car… and there he was. On the porch, timid and curious, stood the biggest dog I’d ever seen – his name was Bruno… and he was, apparently, mine. He stood on his skinny, awkward, puppy legs as I emerged from the car… and he peed all over the porch. He was clearly as unsure of me as I was of him.

That night, my husband at work, Bruno stood in the corner of our bedroom as I tried to sleep. He stared me down, having stubbornly denied my invitation to come get in the bed with me. (Even though I grew up with Dobermans, it had been a long time since I’d been around a dog his size. It was a little intimidating, but I offered the bed anyway.) I drifted off for a moment and when I woke he was halfway between the corner, where he’d stood in fervent opposition to my welcoming, and the bed, where I laid. Still staring but, at least, closer. I dozed again… and when I woke up, there he was – next to me in the bed. The rest is history.

That stubborn, 120 lbs at his best, bear of a dog was part of the first big change in my life. Throughout it, he made me into the best pal and dog mama and tapped into a great sense of loyalty that I never knew I possessed. He traveled with us (along with his “sister,” Dixie) from that porch where he nervously peed at first sight of me in Lago Patria, Italy to Newport News, VA. We ventured from there to Jacksonville, FL, Barlow Vincent, OH, & Parkersburg, WV. He moved with me to Gasontia, NC, Arden, NC, and then into Asheville proper. Seven cities, thirteen addresses, and he barely batted an eye. He had me and he had Dixie, so he was cool. Less cool once my son was born… but he adjusted like the champ he was. He was my co-pilot in my twenties. Something, if you’ve lived through your twenties, you know you need. We saw each other through a lot of change.

In December of 2014 I did the thing that every pet-parent knows they’ll have to do, but hates the thought of… and I had my boy put down. He’d weathered a lot in his eleven years, but after a couple of months of changing meds around and lugging his now 100 lb self up and down our apartment stairs, I knew. I came home one day and he hurt so bad that he couldn’t even get up to greet me. Weeks later, I held his head in my lap and petted him and told him that he’d been the best boy I could ever ask for, and I thanked him for eleven years of sticking with me. I must have told him a hundred times that I loved him. Then I felt it… I felt him go, and I lingered there to take in every last ounce of him that there was to take.

I miss Brun most of the time… & he holds a place in my heart that will forever be specific to him. So does Dixie, our girl, who has been by my side for almost all of what Brun was, too and then some. I didn’t know if I’d ever want to have another dog, or if I’d just have Dixie Do and then take a reprieve – just work and be a mom – after she takes her leave several years from now. Then… I saw something.

I saw this guy: blakeyboy

And he reminded me of this guy:


I figured I’d fill out the adoption application, have my Charlie meet the pup, let the chips fall where they may. If Charlie was in, I’d make it happen. C isn’t one to fawn over anything artificially… he’s pretty pure that way at the ripe old age of three and a half. He was smitten when he met the new potential pup… and me? Once I saw Charlie fall in love I was gone. Dog gone, all over again, just like when I woke up next to Brun or when a sleeping Dixie opened her eyes and looked at me for the first time. We bring our new boy home on Friday and I feel like something that’s been off kilter is realigning. I get to introduce another sweet love into my world and this time I get to share it with my son. Charlie’s only question after we left the initial meeting with our new pup was this: “Is he going to be my puppy for the rest of his life and I’ll never ever leave him?” When I said yes to both he threw his arms around my neck and squeezed as hard as his excited little self could squeeze. He gets it.