It was shaping up not to be a very merry Christmas for us, under circumstances which at first appeared even more strained than last year, when I was still working at the hell-hole job – a job which brought in a regular paycheck, but earned under circumstances which . . . well, least said, soonest forgotten. (Never forgotten though – but leaving me with a burning determination to henceforward earn a living doing work that pleases me, not work which I hate every second of every minute of every hour performing.)

This year I am working for a teensy boutique press. I thought we would be able to finish one project in time for a Christmas release, which would earn me enough of the profits from it to pay some bills, buy some presents and pay enough that I could afford the drive to California. That did not work out – the book will most likely be delivered to the client by mid-January. Dad absolutely freaked at the thought of me driving to California alone, (Blondie being in school and needing to care for the pets!) and Mom’s hospitable nature is worn to tatters by Christmas, anyway. So, gave up on that plan early last week, and Blondie and I spent Christmas at home . . . our home. The one with dogs and cats, and a Christmas tree which has seen all the ornaments removed to the upper 2/3rds of the tree, due to the Lesser Weevil’s tail, and the cats’ proclivity to knock down and play with those ornaments within in reach.

Even with not finishing that book, I have two clients who are paying me to edit their own memoirs, a possible contract to ghost-write another book, beginning in January, and a regular client who pays me for content for a real-estate blog; plus a constant trickle of royalties for the Trilogy, and Truckee’s Trail. All things considered, I’m economically better off than I was last year – or I may be, once everyone gets back to work after the holidays!

We even were able to afford a bit of a splash for Christmas. Through another member of our local Red Hat Ladies chapter, Blondie scored three days of work, delivering for Edible Arrangements. Last year, no one was hiring temporary workers for Christmas, so this year she had given up entirely. And I had my royalty checks, and the usual generous gift from Mom and Dad. We also had another unexpected and totally unlooked-for blessing. We did a good deed, agreed to do a favor for someone, almost in a fit of absent-mindedness. I was scribbling away on one of my writing projects, with an eye on the pizza dough rising – (yeah, our family tradition has pizza for dinner on Christmas Eve. We do home-made, with whatever we like on it, by god! Even anchovies!)

One of my nearby neighbors pounded on the door – totally ignoring the doorbell, and it’s a mystery to me why people don’t see that, since it has a little illuminated button anyway – and explained, breathlessly that as he and his wife were about do hit the road, could we do them a favor, do a good deed over Christmas, if we were going to be at home over the holiday. It was about a stray dog, he said. As he was loading the trunk of their car with luggage, this dog came up to him. A nice little black dog, sort of poodle-ish, very friendly and well-mannered, and he thought it might be the same dog as was being advertised on a flyer attached to various mailboxes and light-posts. At this very moment, his wife was feeding the dog, but they absolutely had to hit the road in the next few minutes – could we keep the dog, and call the number on the flyer, and see to returning this nice little dog to it’s owner? Well – it’s not like we haven’t done that before. Sometimes I have thought that Blondie and I are magnets for every lost dog in our neighborhood, and beyond. On particular memorable weekend, there were four of them returned to owners; we have gotten particularly experienced at this. It’s almost a routine; check for tags, call the clinic which issued them, call the local clinics, call the various voluntary groups. If it’s a weekday, take the dog to the nearest service for a chip-check, put an ad in the paper, and walk around the neighborhood with the animal, asking everyone we know if they recognize it . . . this works, it really does. We have kept stray dogs in the back yard, and in the house, never for more than a few days, before finding the owner – usually people who have been frantically searching for their pet. There is something about a dog which is cherished, and beloved; they behave themselves, they gratefully eat the kibble in the bowl, make friends with our dogs, tolerate the cats and generally . . . behave like dogs who have people who are missing them, and ransacking the neighborhood.

Blondie came home, just as the neighbor was going down the walk – he was relieved no end to be able to pass off this project on us, for he couldn’t leave a strange dog alone in their house with their own dogs, unsupervised over the weekend, and what if the owners were going away for the holiday weekend? So Blondie took the telephone number from the poster, and called, leaving a message which was returned in a few minutes. Yes, they had been looking for their little black schnauzer, he was ten years old, neatly groomed, but no collar, neutered and with unclipped ears – they would come immediately and look at the dog which seemed to match their description. We had cheerfully put amongst our menagerie. He was very sweet and well-mannered; he sat obediently for a dog-treat and allowed the cats to dubiously sniff at him.

He had been missing for five days, as it turned out – and his owners’ family was frantic. This was sentimental movie material, when the husband and older daughter walked into the living-room, and he scampered up to them; of course he was theirs. And how wonderful to get him back safely on Christmas Eve, although where he had been for five days was anyone’s guess. It had rained on Wednesday night, and then been bitterly cold, and he was a sheltered indoor dog, for the most part. The owners said, they had posted a reward, for whoever returned him – would we accept it. We’ve only been offered a reward once – and the first time, we were very noble and turned it down. This time, I admitted that, well – Blondie’s a student, and I’m an erratically employed writer, so, yes, we would accept a reward. We truly expected it to be in the range of 25$ or so. When consulted, the neighbor who had left the situation in our hands didn’t want a share. Although we really hadn’t done all that much in this case, we had taken an awful lot of trouble on previous occasions, with all the other strays. We could consider this our cumulative reward, for all we had done for other dogs, and feel all right with accepting it. The husband thanked us again, and said they would be back in a bit.

Which they were, this time with the wife, who has been papering the other side of our neighborhood with flyers; the dog was her particular pet. They all teared up again, thanked us profusely, admired our own dogs, told us how worried they had been, and how desperately they had been searching . . . and to get him back again on Christmas Eve. They left us with a Christmas card, which contained a check for an absolutely stunning amount . . . so, yes, we were enabled to have a very pleasant Christmas, knowing that our casually-accepted good deed would help us pay a couple of bills, too.

It’s just that last year, outside my own personal situation – everything seemed more hopeful. We could cross our fingers and hope that B. Obama, once inaugurated, could grow into the job of president, that maybe having come out of the Chicago political machine would not be so much of a bad omen. After all, he did seem intelligent, politically adroit, reasonable and well-spoken – or at least the people in his proposed administration seemed to be. All the political experts, media personalities, and big intellectual authorities kept assuring us so Harry Truman came out of another such big-city machine, and he turned out OK. We could hope a little. Last year at this time, I had never heard of a Tea Party, save in the history books, would never have considered being party of a protest, carrying a sign, or sending a message to my congressman. And now . . . here we are, not yet on the edge of an abyss, but fearing that one will open up at our feet, any moment now. I am now haunted by a line a year-end roundup by Wretchard at Belmont Club, enjoy the champagne, this year – for by this time next year, we will be eating the glass.

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