A farm girl from Minnesota, Martha loved big dogs. She grew up roaming the woods with two massive mutts – Pooka and Gawain – offspring of an enormous Malamute and the grandest of Great Pyrenees.
Jerome, Martha’s husband, loved Dachshunds. A New Yorker by birth – a Manhattanite no less – Jerome grew up in a four-room flat with a mother, a father, two sisters, and the love of his life, Schulze, a seventeen-pound Dachshund with the heart of a lion and the personality of Harpo Marx.
Jerome and Martha met in young middle age at a dog park in Berkeley, California, both having just lost their canine companions – Martha her Great Dane/Greyhound/Irish Setter, Sophie; Jerome his latest Dachshund, Schulze the Third. Each was single, bereft, and hoping to gain some solace by sitting in the midst of several dozen happy dogs and their loquacious masters.
“Which is yours?” asked Jerome of Martha, sharing her view of a handsome Black Lab/Golden Retriever going nose-to-nose with an alpha Husky/Shepherd/Elkhound.
“I haven’t got a dog,” said Martha, her eyes filling with tears. “My Sophie just…”
Three months later, Jerome and Martha were married in that very dog park. Renting a very small house with a tiny backyard in El Cerrito – Jerome an editor, Martha a research librarian – they compromised on their first pooch and adopted a frisky Keeshond/Spaniel named Pooh. And for fourteen years Pooh thrived and so did Jerome and Martha.
Then Pooh died, and Jerome and Martha went into mourning. When their communal grief finally subsided enough to permit the topic of What Next In The Way Of A Dog to emerge, Jerome opened negotiations by saying, “I’m sixty-one now and I’d dearly love to have a Dachshund again. You won’t find a more…”
Martha listened patiently to all the good things Jerome had to say about Dachshunds, then cleared her throat and sang the praises of large dogs – of staying in shape by climbing the hills being towed, as it were, by a strong champion, of the warmth and security only a big hound can bring to a household, etc.
They did not bicker, but at the end of round one neither wished to compromise. And so the weeks and months passed, and their lives were not quite as satisfying as when Pooh lived with them and loved them and played with them and needed them.
Then the nights turned chilly and Christmas appeared on the near horizon, and Martha and Jerome – quite separately and secretly – began looking around for a new dog.
On a cold morning three days before Christmas, Jerome exited the Berkeley Y refreshed from a zesty hour of Jazzercise and bumped smack into Hilda Zigenhoffer, aka She With The Five Delightful Dachshunds. Of course Jerome and Hilda were acquainted, for Jerome was drawn to all things Dachshund.
“Oh, Jerome,” Hilda exclaimed, reining in her sled team of short-legged mushers. “You must see the new Dachshund they just got in at the pound. A noble four-year old abandoned in Tilden Park. I’d take him in a heartbeat, but as you can see…”
Meanwhile, as Martha rolled up her mat at the Albany Pilates Club, she was joined on the floor by Cecily Considine, aka She With The Three Truly Colossal Mutts. “Oh Martha,” trumpeted Cecily, “you simply have to see the enormous pup I rescued on San Pablo Avenue yesterday. I’m guessing Rhodesian Ridgeback/Dane/Saint Bernard…”
On the eve before Christmas Eve, Jerome and Martha re-opened the discussion of What Next In The Way Of A Dog, and acrimony and rancor flowed as never before in that tiny house in El Cerrito.
“I miss having a big dog,” said Martha, growling at her husband. “I feel like I’m only half-alive without…”
“You feel that way?” yelped Jerome, gulping down his third highly uncharacteristic glass of wine. “How do you think I feel sans Dachshund for going on fifteen years now? You can’t imagine how…”
So on this night they did not share a bed for the first time in fourteen years, and when morning came they did not speak as they ate their breakfasts – he granola and coffee, she toast and tea. Nor did they bid each other fond farewell as they left for work.
Feeling too upset to edit another treatise on polemics, Jerome called his therapist and she agreed to see him on what would have been her lunch break. Jerome unburdened himself, not really blaming Martha, but saying with some bitterness, “I’ve been denying my essential nature all these years in deference to our partnership, but I just can’t do it anymore.”
“Christmas,” commented Jerome’s therapist, “is a highly stressful time for…”
“This has nothing to do with Christmas,” cried Jerome, clutching a Dachshund-sized pillow and pressing it to his aching heart. “This is about wanting to be whole again.”
“And what about your wife?’ asked his therapist. “What of her wholeness?”
Too distracted to alphabetize seventeen articles on the morphology of sonic variations in diphthongs, Martha called her parents in Minnesota – her father and mother coming on the line simultaneously. Following the requisite weather comparisons and her father saying for the umpteenth time, “So you don’t really have weather out there, do you?,” Martha blurted the gist of her canine dilemma.
To which her very wise mother responded, “Honey, it’s not the container that matters. It’s what inside.”
On Christmas Eve, Jerome apologized profusely to Martha and took her out to dinner at her favorite Indian restaurant. Over tandoori everything, Martha apologized for her bigger-is-better bias, and they returned home for a splendiferous evening of reaffirming their love for each other.
After sleeping in on Christmas morning, Martha got a big fire going in their rarely used hearth while Jerome prepared their traditional Christmas breakfast of cranberry waffles topped with melted chocolate.
“Aha,” said Jerome, hearing a vehicle pull up in front of their house. “I believe your Christmas gift has arrived.”
“No,” said Martha, gazing out the front window. “That’s your gift arriving.”
The doorbell sounded. Martha opened the door. Jerome blinked, then blinked again. Did his eyes deceive him or was the brave and noble Dachshund surmounting the threshold of their very small house not the spitting image – indeed, the reincarnation – of Schulze the Third?
But before Jerome could find words to express his joy and gratitude, Cecily Considine came hurtling up the front walk being towed, as it were, by a big happy Ridgeback/Dane/Saint Bernard (and possibly Greyhound) pup.
“Awful little house for a big dog like this,” said Cecily, raising a dubious eyebrow as she handed the reins of the powerful pup to Martha.
“In a great big wonderful world,” said Jerome, smiling through his tears as the Dachshund – Duffy – touched noses with the soon-to-be truly gigantic hound – Rhoda – and in a twinkling the dogs were the fastest of friends.
So here I have related the chronicle of two humans in a little house who in the true spirit of Christmas sacrificed for each other their fondest desires, only to find those desires fulfilled by the other.
Todd Walton is a Mendocino writer and musician. His works include Inside Moves, which became an Oscar-nominated feature film, and The Writer’s Path. His latest book is Buddha in a Teacup: Tales of Enlightenment. To learn more about his work, visit www.underthetablebooks.com.