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Thanks to Chicken Soup For The Soul and others

On Age

I look forward to being older, when what you look like becomes less and less the issue, and what you are is the point.

Susan Sarandon


Cited in More of the Best of...BITS & PIECES

Sing We Noel

The year of my tenth birthday marked the first time that our entire family had jobs. Dad had been laid off from his regular employment, but found painting and carpentry work all around town. Mom sewed fancy dresses and baked pies for folks of means and I worked after school and weekends for Mrs. Brenner, a neighbor who raised cocker spaniels. I loved my job, especially the care and feeding of her frisky litters of puppies. Proudly, I gave my earnings to Mom to help out, but the job was such fun, I would have worked for no pay at all.

I was content during these "hard times" to wear thrift shop dresses and faded jeans. I waved good-by to puppies going to fancy homes with no remorse. But that all changed when the Christmas litter arrived in the puppy house. These six would be the last available pups until after Christmas.

As I stepped into the house for their first feeding, my heart did a flip flop. One shiny red puppy with sad brown eyes wagged her tail and bounced forward to greet me.

"Looks as if you have a friend already," Mrs. Brenner chuckled. "You'll be in charge of her feedings."

"Noel," I whispered, holding the pup close to my heart, sensing instantly that she was something special. Each day that followed forged an inexplicable bond between us.

Christmas was approaching, and one night, at dinner, I was bubbling over about all of Noel's special qualities for about the hundredth time.

"Listen, Kiddo," Dad put down his fork. "Perhaps someday you can have a puppy of your own, but now times are very hard. You know I've been laid off at the plant. If it wasn't for the job I've had this month remodeling Mrs. Brenner's kitchen, I don't know what we'd do."

"I know, Dad, I know." I couldn't bear the pained expression on his face.

"We'll have to brave it out this year," he sighed.

By Christmas Eve, only Noel and a large male remained. "They're being picked up later," Mrs. Brenner explained. "I know the family taking Noel," she continued. She'll be raised with tons of love." No one could love her as much as I did, I thought. No one.

"Can you come tomorrow morning? I'll be weaning new pups the day after Christmas. Mop the floor with pine, and spread fresh bedding for the new litter. Would you be a dear and feed the kennel dogs too? I'll have a house full of guests. Oh, and ask your Dad to stop over with you. One of the kitchen cabinet doors needs a little adjustment. He did such a beautiful job that I'1l enjoy showing it off!"

I nodded my head, barely able to focus on her words. The new puppies would be cute, but there'd never be another Noel. Never. The thought of someone else raising my puppy was almost too much to bear.

Christmas morning, after church, we opened our meager gifts. Mom modeled the apron I made her in home economics with a flair befitting a Paris gown. Dad raved about the watchband I gave him. It wasn't even real leather, but he replaced his frayed band and admired it as if it was golden. He handed me the book "Beautiful Joe," and I hugged them both. They had no gifts for each other. What a sad Christmas, with all of us pretending that it wasn't.

After breakfast, Dad and I changed clothes to go to Mrs. Brenner's. On our short walk, we chatted and waved to passing neighbors, each of us deliberately avoiding the subjects of Christmas and puppies.

Dad waved good-by as he headed toward the Brenner's kitchen door. I walked directly to the puppy house in the back yard. It was strangely silent, no puppy growls, tiny barks nor rustling paper. It felt as sad and dreary as I did. My head gave the order to begin cleaning, but in my heart I wanted to sit down on the lonely floor and bawl.

It's funny looking back at childhood days. Some events are fuzzy, the details sketchy and faces indistinct. But I remember returning home that Christmas afternoon so clearly; entering the kitchen with the aroma of pot roast simmering on the stove, Mom clearing her throat and calling to Dad who suddenly appeared in the dining room doorway.

With an odd huskiness in his voice, he whispered, "Merry Christmas, Kiddo," and smiling, he gently placed Noel, clad in a red bow, into my arms. My parent's love for me merged with my overwhelming love for Noel and sprang from my heart, like a sparkling fountain of joy. At that moment, it became, without a doubt, absolutely the most wonderful Christmas I have ever had.

By Toni Fulco

Lessons from Geese

Lessons from Geese, was transcribed from a speech given by Angeles Arrien at the 1991 Organizational Development Network and was based on the work of Milton Olson.