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The Gift that Keeps on Giving
by Mia Prince

It’s officially holiday season on Sturdivant Road: moms and dads medicate themselves before their annual visits with the in-laws, teenage girls are teaching their boyfriends the do’s and don’ts of Christmas dinner, and grandparents take out a second mortgage, assuring that their precious grandbabies wake up on the 25th with the gifts they so desire.

After Thanksgiving is behind us and the excitement of Christmas begins to flurry through the air, my mother ventures a few houses over to her mother’s house (my Nana) to set the game plan in motion for Christmas 2016. Talk of a phone for my sister, Addie, and new bedding for myself all come to a halt with a single sigh from our head matriarch.

“It just won’t be the same this year without her.” Nana says, glassy eyed.
“Without who?” queries my mother, “Is Reba finally going off air?”
“Don’t be a cynic. The world still turns, ya know” my Nana gripes. “I’m talking about Lacy! This will be the first Christmas without her. It’s going to be so different, so lonely.”

Hmm . . . Lacy my mother ponders in efforts to recall. Ah yes! The one with the bad back and the pustulated eye infection, that’s the one! My mother sympathized with Nana’s loss. She couldn’t imagine who else would notify her of her UPS deliveries with shrieks of bloody murder or wake her from her naps at 3:00 every weekday for the Dr. Phil hour. Who could possibly fill the void Lacy left? my mother wondered as she looked down to one of Nana’s dogs gnawing at the end of her yoga pants, a second humping the leg of a coffee table, and a third plowing its rear down the middle of the living room rug. A sad sight indeed. But there’s no way my mother was declaring Christmas ‘16 a lost cause on the first weekend of December. She kissed her mother goodbye, started the car, and drafted a group text to her two sisters Julie and Kim to rally the troops for her new plan on what was to be the best Christmas gift ever.

The evening of the 24th approached quickly. My mother’s family and mine all gathered at Nana’s. We place ourselves on the couches, rockers, ottomans and anywhere else we could squeeze in to bask in the warmth of the fireplace and company of kin. Soon, my father slides in through the screen door holding a big box like structure concealed with a blanket. The box is blitzed up with multicolored Christmas lights that blink on and off, while a big red bow sits on top of the box. Everyone Ooos and Ahhs at the mystery waiting to be unveiled. Dad sat the box down at the center of the living room and stood back.

“Go ahead. Open it.” He grins.

Nana crouched down from her recliner and pulled off the covering. An orchestra of silent drum rolls echoing through each of our heads came to a screeching halt with the drop of Nana’s face. Her eyes met the beady black orbs to a small red dachshund shivering at the back of her kennel. The fur of her auburn coat stood up on the back of her neck resembling a raging western fire as she was paralyzed with fear.

“Hello in there, little one.” Dad teased at the pup with a baby voice, while simultaneously reading the expressions of Nana’s face, searching for any hint of toleration Nana may have for this pooch. The pup then scurried out of her cage, chased her tail in a turn and sat at command with her tongue hanging from her mouth, and eyes beaming at Nana.

“My, my . . . my goodness.” Nana said while letting out a small breathy chuckle. The room was quiet and felt as if everyone was holding their breath. Her ears perked as she awaited the blessing of her new master but was only met with a slight grimace and a sympathetic pat on the head.

“How much was it?” my Nana queried, reaching for her checkbook.

All of sudden, the silence was broken with the sounds of cars being started, coats thrown on, and farewells bid as everyone soon realized that this dog needed a place to lay its head tonight, and it wasn’t gonna be at Nana’s. The room of people cleared out like a tidal wave, leaving behind me, my family, and the little red dog who still sat at command, alone in the living room. My mother, father, Addison and I, the last ones standing, met eye to eye with the orphaned Christmas angel, who wagged her tail as she finally laid eyes on her forever family.

That night, we loaded the car and stumbled back into the house with our tails tucked as we digested the hard loss of the night. A bed was made for the dog while we kissed her goodnight and placed the covering back over the kennel.
Later that night, as I awoke from the deep slumber of a child that awaits Christmas morning, I laid eyes on the silhouette of two ears attached to a little four legged creature outlined by the light of the hallway. I crouched down to meet her restless body and tucked her into bed with me.
“Ruby, I think I’ll call you.”
She looked up at me and nipped the tip of my nose, rested her head on the bed of my shoulder and shut her eyes.

Mia Prince is from Brownsville, Tennessee. She was the winner in the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association writing competition. She enjoys reading American classics, spending her summers at Lakeshore Camp and Retreat Center, and scouting out the latest fashions in thrift stores with her best friends.