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The Puppies of New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2014

 

The Puppies of New Year’s Eve

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Clare Ann had the heater of her red Ford Taurus turned to high as she was in the midst of her 70-mile journey to the farmhouse where she would pick up her new puppies.  Earlier in December, Clare Ann had decided that she did not want one puppy to be lonely, so she chose two puppies.  Fortunately, Glenn, the breeder of the Cavalier King Charles spaniels, agreed to keep the puppies until December 31.  Finally, on the last day of the year, Clare’s adult children and all had flown back to their homes—a thousand or more miles away.  Their visits in July and December were bookends that left to much space and time to fill—especially since the passing of their father, the passing so suddenly two and a half years ago.

 

As Clare Ann drove safely at the speed limit on the road which had once been one lane of bricks and one lane of gravel, she reminisced about her late husband; then, through tear-filled eyes, she tried to re-focus on her driving, on the gray landscape and barren fields.  Ever since Mac’s death, she had tried to fill the days; but she felt as if her life were a sieve.  Since all her volunteer work had not been sufficiently effective to fill seven days of each week, her new plan was to fill more hours of each day with the new puppies.

 

On Route 1, a mist ensued; then, by the time Clare Ann neared the pet cemetery of the veterinary clinic, a steady rain washed off the salt from her red car.  She pulled into the parking lot of the veterinary clinic, made a U-turn, and stopped for a few minutes across from the grave sites of her former pet dogs who were lying at rest there.  The cemetery was always kept up so nicely—frequently better than the cemetery where some of her relatives were buried.  For a few minutes, Clare allowed herself to think of the happy times that those dogs had brought to her family and to herself.  Surely, the new puppies would bring her some happier times.

 

When Clare pulled away from the clinic, she noticed that the outdoor temperature was 37 degrees.  She was grateful that snow and freezing rain were not worries.  As she continued through the county seat of Edgar County—through Paris, Illinois—Clare dwelled on the thought of how de-peopled her life had become.  Of the couples with whom she and Mac had socialized for decades, she was the first to lose a spouse.  Clare Ann hated the word “lose”:  she had not lost Mac.  In one way or another, she knew that he would always be with her; but she had lost close connections with all those couples and her teacher friends.  What concerned her even more was that she was losing close ties with her children—due, she thought, to all those miles between their homes and their Hoosier home.  Did those miles between allow them to grieve so differently, so separately?  Of course, she could have visited her children more often; but Clare Ann hated to fly.  She hated airports and all the bother and anxiousness of airline travel.  Alternatively, driving alone all those miles to their homes was just too much for her at age 64.  Basically, she knew and readily admitted that she was not a good traveler.  Seventy miles to the farmhouse to pick up the puppies was doable:  she was glad to be on her way to the breeder’s house, where she had visited the puppies twice previously.  The puppies would be another good excuse to avoid long trips, and she had always loved and bonded so quickly with dogs.

 

After traveling a little more than fifty miles, Clare Ann noticed the sound of sleet hitting the windshield.  Her calmness disappeared, and her foot let up on the accelerator.  Her increasing nervousness about the changing weather and road conditions made her feel a bit too warm, so she turned down the heater.  She tried to concentrate more on her driving.  As Clare went around the next bend in the road, the sleet subsided in intensity.  Since there was no radio report to be of help for this area, Clare turned off the radio and turned on the low beams.  The next ten miles passed by too slowly.  Although a couple of semis sped by, few other vehicles were on this highway.  The houses were few and far between:  the landscape seemed as de-peopled as her life.  In the middle of the day, without any holiday lights to add a peaceful glow, everything was gray, too gray.

 

When Clare Ann spotted the iron bridge, she knew that she had less than ten miles to her destination.  Suddenly, she realized that this area was coated with ice; she took her foot off the accelerator.  The freezing rain was adding to the thickness of the ice on the road and on her car.  She said a prayer and wished for snow—not ice.  With no other vehicle in sight, Clare was not concerned about going too slowly.  To pass the painstakingly slow miles of ice, she whispered the rosary.

 

When Clare Ann glanced at the odometer, she realized that she had to watch for the turn-off on the county road.  She sang, “Oh, the weather outside is frightful ….”  Then, the sign for the county road welcomed her to a moment of relief:  one right turn and then the farmhouse should be within sight.  To make the right turn, Clare decreased her speed; but her turning glided all to swiftly into a spin which landed her Ford in a ditch along the county road.  Realizing that she was fine and her car could not be too damaged, Clare gave a brief prayer of thanks.  Then, she tried to drive the car out of the ditch.  No luck.  Making a second attempt would have been ridiculous, so she left the car and stepped alongside the road to avoid the more slippery surface.  Facing the wind, Clare pulled her hood over her knitted beret and very cautiously walked toward the lights of the farmhouse.

 

By the time Clare Ann reached the wrap-around porch of the farmhouse, she was wet and shivering.

 

“Come in, come in, “ Glenn insisted.  “You look frozen.  I thought you would not come today because of the icy weather.”

 

As Glenn took his visitor’s coat, hat, scarf, and gloves, Clare began to explain her journey and incident.  Besides Glenn, she was warmly welcomed by her two puppies and two other Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  After Glenn encouraged Clare to sit on the sofa, near the fireplace, he handed her a heavy granny-square afghan to cover herself.  The four dogs gathered at her feet; she petted two at a time.  In the warm house, stroking the puppies and dogs, Clare spoke softly to her new canine friends and felt calm again.  Glenn folded a fleece blanket into fourths and handed it to Clare.  “Place this on your lap, over the afghan; and I will hand you your puppies.”  With the darling puppies on her lap, Clare Ann smiled broadly; the face that had felt frozen just a few minutes earlier suddenly glowed with delight.  “Stay right there; I’ll grab my phone and take a picture for you.  I can e-mail the photo to you so that you can share it with your children.”  Although Clare would have normally been embarrassed to have her photo taken, she just continued to smile and talk to her puppies.  After taking a few photos, Glenn sighed with relief:  he was so pleased that these two special pups would have a good home.  After noticing that Clare Ann had stopped shivering, Glenn smiled at the New Year’s Eve puppies and visitor.

 

“Would you like hot cocoa, hot apple cider, or a hot toddy?”

 

While the puppies napped on their new owner’s lap, the cider—spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg—soothed Clare’s senses even more.  From Clare’s previous visits, she remembered that the older dog’s name was Freckles and that Patches was the mother of the puppies.  One Cavalier was white with red spots while the younger dog was white with cinnamon-colored spots.  Clare knew that her puppies would not show the colors of their spots until they were about 14 weeks old.  As soon as Glenn sat in the recliner across from Clare, the older dogs gathered at his feet.  With one hand on Patches, Glenn lifted his mug of cider in the air and toasted, “Happy New Year!”  Clare repeated his toast with a gentle smile.

 

“When I completed all the paperwork to adopt the puppies, you learned so much about me.  Now, I think you need to tell me a little about yourself.”

 

“yes, I do like to know a lot about the people who adopt my pups.  I want these little guys to have a good and forever home.  I had grown up with larger-breed dogs, but my wife—my former wife—introduced me to this breed.  I fell in love with these Cavaliers—and fell out of love with my wife.  Actually, I guess we just grew apart in our sixties.  When I retired from the newspaper, I was ready to stay here and enjoy the farm; Kate wanted to travel and especially cruise.  In my younger days, I had traveled a fair amount.  The military took me to Viet Nam; but I also traveled in a few European countries, Mexico, Canada, and 49 states—all except Hawaii.  Kate talked me into one cruise to Alaska.  Well, that was fine.  Once was enough for me, but not for Kate.  Finally, I told her to go on a cruise without me.  She did.  She met Giorgio.  Kate and I divorced; they married.  Now, instead of book-of-the-month club or wine-of-the-month club, Kate and Giorgio belong to cruise-of-the-month club.  To remind me of her vow of cruise-ship living, Kate sends me a postcard from every port.  I have quite a collection.  I suppose I am saying too much.  Last December, they went on a Christmas cruise; this year, they are on a Santa cruise.  So, I had all the children and grandchildren here for Christmas.  With all the company, the puppies had an exciting holiday season.  Have you ever been on a Santa cruise?”

 

“I have never been on a cruise.  I try to avoid cruise ships and airplanes.  If I were away from home too much, I would not have passed your test to receive the puppies.”

 

“You are right.  I was supposed to go to a friend’s house for New Year’s Eve, but I need to call and cancel—too much ice.  Then, I’ll call the sheriff’s office to let Sheriff Bodner and his deputies know about your car.  They will be pleased to know that you are here and safe.  Did you have lunch?”

 

“yes, an early lunch, thank you.  Thanks for calling the sheriff.”

 

While Glenn made the calls, Clare Ann freshened up in the bathroom.  When they met in the spacious kitchen, Glenn asked if she would like chili and cornbread for supper.  He added that the sheriff said that she and everyone else in the county would make his life easier if everyone would stay put for the night due to the ice storm.  Glenn explained that when a county salt truck slides off the icy road, the sheriff thinks we all just need to wait for Mother Nature to melt the ice.  Although Clare Ann was a bit uncomfortable, she knew that she did not have a choice.  The farmhouse had to be her refuge for the night.

 

The totally remodeled kitchen intrigued Clare Ann and took her mind off the circumstances.  In front of one bay window was a large round table; in front of the second bay window were two bentwood rocking chairs.  Glenn’s rolltop desk bridged the gap between the two windows.  Realizing that Clare Ann was taken with the view of the farmland and woods, Glenn encouraged her to sit on one of the bentwood rockers.  The freezing rain was changing to snow; the branches, fence rows, and a gazebo glistened with Mother Nature’s dangerously fine touch.

 

Talking and laughing, playing with the puppies, taking all four dogs outside a few times, working together in the kitchen to make the chili and cornbread, having supper beside the bay window, playing a game of Scrabble, becoming more and more acquainted and comfortable with each other, Clare Ann and Glenn passed the next several hours until minutes before midnight.  Right after turning on the television so that they could watch the festivities in New York City, Glenn popped open the bottle of champagne which he had planned to take to his friends’ party.  Observing that the four dogs who were curled up together paid no attention to the popping of the champagne bottle, Glenn and Clare Ann shared a smile with one another.  “Shall we toast your new puppies?  Why haven’t I asked you this before?  What are you naming the pups?  Icy and Frosty?”

 

“No, Glenn, I decided that these puppies of New Year’s Eve should be called Champagne and Bubbles.”

 

 

My champagne toast to you and yours is:

Best wishes for a very happy and healthy 2015!

May each month of the new year bring you the spirit and kindness of this special season,

Alice and Zoe

 

written on January 1-4, 2014

posted on December 31, 2014, Wednesday

 

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5 Comments
  1. Alice, this is sweet. I’ve read it before, but it was nice reading it again. Happy New Year.

  2. I enjoyed this delightful short story so much, Alice. Is the story going to be continued on a later blog?
    Wishing you and Zoe much happiness and good health in the new year,
    Mary

    • Mary–Although I had no plans to continue the story, perhaps, the Cavaliers and the characters will re-appear at the end of 2015. AZ

  3. I enjoyed the plot, but also the similarities to the family and the setting. Happy New Year, Alice and Zoe!

    • Carole–Yes, we traveled a multitude of times over that road which was brick on one side and gravel on the other lane. Happy 2015! A & Z

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