Ghosts of Christmas Past
One of my favorite holiday movies as a child was the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol (starring Alastair Sim). If I am to be visited this year by the Ghost of Christmas Past, I am sure the ghost will highlight some of my memorable holidays with animals…
The Cat and the Christmas Tree
One Christmas Eve, my part-Maine Coon cat, Hobie, climbed the eleven-foot Christmas tree — and then decided he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) come down. He clung to the bark, alternating between meowing pitifully and howling as the tree swayed with his considerable weight, sending a few fragile ornaments to meet their fate on the floor like little glass bombs.
We had to get an outside ladder into the house to extract the cat, inadvertently causing more ornaments to shatter.
When Hobie finally set his paws on the ground again, he walked to the nearest brightly wrapped present and threw up.
The Malamute and the Eggnog
Many years ago, I had a Malamute named Mei Mei. I was living with a boyfriend and we decided to have a Christmas party. He made an eggnog with rum in it. After drinks, the party moved to the dining area to eat.
When I walked back to the living room to get something, there was Mei Mei moving around the glass coffee table, drinking from one glass of eggnog to the next, lapping it up like it was water.
I freaked, thinking she would die of alcohol poisoning. But to my surprise she, a little glassy-eyed and wobbly, just staggered into the bedroom and slept for ten hours. It was the only time I ever heard her snore.
The Horse in the Barn Aisle with Stockings
Once upon a time, I boarded my horse at a barn designed with stalls facing out from the indoor arena. The barn party was held on Christmas Eve day, and the barn owner had put up stockings at each horse’s stall. The owners filled their horse’s stocking with carrots, apples, and treats.
On Christmas morning, I got a call from the barn manager that my horse, Panther, was standing in the barn aisle with a Christmas stocking in his mouth, waving it like a flag. He had managed to get out of his stall, systematically go down the barn aisle, take the stockings off each door and consume the contents: ten candy canes and an unknown number of apples and carrots. He’d flung a box of Domino sugar cubes he had opened into the aisle and, sadly, we found only about ten cubes he didn’t eat.
The barn manager turned him out in a paddock with hay. She said he bucked, farted, leaped, and cavorted for a good half hour, refusing to be caught, in what must be considered the ultimate sugar high. Fortunately he never colicked from his night of piracy.
Christmas Day with Cows: Three Miracles
When my ex-husband and I bought our farm 39 years ago, it came with five cows and a bull. Neither my husband nor I had any cattle experience. What could possibly go wrong?
Our first Christmas at the farm began before light, with our dogs barking unusually loudly and frantically. My husband refused to get up, so I threw on a bathrobe and went to let the dogs out. They ran out into the backyard like hellhounds. I figured it was a raccoon or maybe deer. We had houseguests, my husband’s brother and his wife Elaine from Atlanta. The barking had woken them up, and I assured them they could go back to sleep. I headed for the kitchen to make coffee.
Then I heard it. Moo. Right by the kitchen window. It was still dark. Oh crap, did the cows get out? I threw on a coat, jammed my feet into my trusty Bean boots, found a flashlight and headed outside. Mind you, I was still in my nightgown.
There they were. Five cows and, somewhere in the dark shadows, one bull. The dogs had stirred the cows up, and I was waving my arms frantically trying to shoo them out of the backyard and into the pasture.
It didn’t go well. I couldn’t put the dogs back in the house because their racket would raise the dead. I managed to get the dogs to come with me to the barn, to get a bucket of feed. Did I mention it was cold (in the teens)? Did I have gloves on? No. As soon as I turned on the lights the horses started grumbling for their breakfast. So there was a chorus of barks, neighs, and moos, and then the rooster started to crow.
I grabbed a bucket, poured some oats and corn into it, at which point one horse started banging on her stall door in anticipation. Banging hard.
In this cacophony, I walked toward the cows, shaking the bucket for them to come to me and balancing the flashlight. By that point I could no longer feel my fingers.
The cows started moving toward me while the dogs tried to herd them, although the dogs are not herding breeds; one is a Labrador mix, the other a husky mix, and the third is a hound.
The back door opened and I hoped it was my husband. But no, it was my sister-in-law, Elaine, who’s a city girl and finds being in the country rather frightening. She was in her pajamas and slippers. “Can I help?” she asked.
“No,” I lied, “I’ve got it covered.” Nothing was further from the truth.
The bull just looked at me. Didn’t move. Didn’t follow the cows. I kept shaking the bucket and walking backwards, then turned forward so I knew where I was going. The cows followed me. I was cold in places I didn’t think could get cold.
The cows picked up the pace and then I ran to the gate because being stampeded by a group of cows just wasn’t what I had in mind for Christmas. The gate latch was frozen.
I reached into my pockets and pulled out a Swiss Army knife, several sugar cubes, hay bale twine, and a hoof pick. I threw the cows some feed, beat that latch gate within an inch of its life with the hoof pick, and by some Christmas miracle it unlocked. I scattered the feed inside the pasture and the cows willingly came through and started eating. But where was the bull?
The bull was munching on some 19th-century boxwood bushes, tall as trees, planted not long after the farm was established in 1823. The dogs zeroed in on the bull. He charged the Husky, taking a portion of the boxwood with him. The Husky was quick and evaded the bull. Meanwhile, the rooster was crowing, the mare resorted to stall-kicking, the cows were calling for the bull and the dogs kept barking.
And then the second Christmas miracle occurred: something told me to get into the truck and herd the bull with the vehicle. Yes, that would be the NEW truck, the Dually, which to get around and behind the bull had to be driven through (yes you guessed it) the perimeter of boxwoods.
I heard the crunch of the small fox statue I set out by the boxwoods, now crushed under the tires. The branches scraped the truck, and broke off. I drove over the terrace, catching the wooden picnic table with the right fender.
The sky was growing lighter. I could see the gate.
Finally, I was behind the bull. I inched up on him, put the truck in park, and gunned the motor.
He moved. The truck followed. The cows mooed more urgently. He neared the gate. How do I get in front of him to open it? I had a panicked vision of him slamming me into the tube gate with his massive head. I got out of the truck and moved around the back of it to be on the right side of the truck and closer to the gate latch.
And then the third Christmas miracle occurred: Elaine, my sister-in-law, in her flapping bathrobe, came running toward me waving her arms and yelling, “Bad bull, bad bull!”
It spooked the bull and he bolted to the left. I got to the latch and pushed the gate inward. One cow moved towards the open gate and I threw the empty feed bucket in front of her.
The bull turned to the right, saw the open pasture and trotted in. I closed the gate, hugged Elaine, and walked back to the house to get gloves and a hat so I could feed the horses, chickens, and throw hay to the cows.
In the light of day I found the section of fence that the cows had busted through. Unfortunately, I couldn’t temporarily “repair” it with my usual go-to: baling twine and duct tape. So I parked the truck there to keep the cows in until my husband could replace the boards.
To make that memorable Christmas Day even more memorable, the hound afforded himself a good roll in the cow plop on the lawn and trotted through the house to show off his new cologne.
That was the last Christmas I ever spent with cows.
Illustration credit: Leslie Allyn