A dog’s tale

A story about family and the magic of Christmas in the old neighborhood.

“One Christmas Knight” is overflowing with colorful characters that sparkle on the digital page. They’re composites of family members, friends and acquaintances, all of whom I grew up with in the old neighborhood. Their names have been changed to protect the innocent – or not so innocent. All, that is, but one.

Jake, also known as “The Christmas Puppy” or simply “Crazy Dog,” is the real deal. And, for some reason, he has become the overwhelming favorite of many readers. So much so that Jake has let it go to his head. He’s let it be known that he expects a larger role in any and all sequels.

This isn’t your ordinary family dog.

Here’s an excerpt from One Christmas Knight about how Jake became one of the family:

Someone is always coming or going in our neighborhood. Some moves are direct and in your face, like the time a bully from Staten Island moved onto our block. Apparently he had been quite successful in his old neighborhood, but the first time he bumped into “The King” and demanded a dollar he received a broken nose instead. Jake took a more circuitous route into the neighborhood. He moved into our home on a Christmas morning and has been known ever since as “The Christmas Puppy.” Never mind that the mix of yellow Lab and Weimaraner was well beyond puppy years when he joined our family. He was somewhere between three and four years of age. We’ll never know for sure, and that’s part of his charm.

Jake also answers to “Crazy Dog,” but in our family “crazy” is a term of endearment that applies to more members than not. In Jake, the term fits. It’s the main reason he ended up here – where he belongs.

My cousin Michael was living in western Pennsylvania when he first crossed paths with the rambunctious yellow Lab-Weimaraner. Jake was a runaway, not even two years old yet, when he showed up in the woods that abutted Michael’s backyard. The dog was well fed, had a healthy coat, and wore a collar that identified his owner, a farmer who lived about a mile down the country road. So my cousin returned him … once, twice, three times. On the third occasion the farmer said, “I tie him up, but he breaks loose. Why don’t you save us all a lot of trouble and keep him. He seems to prefer your company anyway.” Something about keeping an animal tied up, especially with so much room to roam, rubbed Michael the wrong way. He took the farmer up on his offer.

So Jake’s days as a frequent runaway were over, but his days of being shifted from one home to another were just beginning. Michael was killed on that same country road less than two years later after he drove his pickup into a pole and ended up in a ditch. Police said Michael was returning from a Halloween party, where the alcohol had flowed freely. He was uninjured in the crash but never saw the power line that electrocuted him when he yielded to the call of nature and urinated into the roadside ditch.

Michael’s sister Carmela took Jake in following the funeral and quickly discovered that her new dog was highly energetic and somewhat neurotic, probably a bit too much for her young family. It was his eyes, though, that left the most lasting impression. Jake has the most lively yellow eyes you have ever seen, but they glow green in the dark. And even though she was told that this is normal for animals, those eyes scared Carmela. Did anyone say, “Maloccio?”

She was searching for a new home for Jake by Thanksgiving. By Christmas Eve, Jake had found himself in the city pound when he came out on the losing end of a brief scrap with a skunk. When Pop heard about it, he kissed us all and then excused himself. He returned about an hour later, finally hanging up his hat and coat.

“Where’s the dog?” I asked him.

“Not to worry. A friend of mine is holding him for me.”

Pop knew a guy who knew a guy and got the head of the pound to open up for
him on Christmas morning. Talk about your Christmas miracles.

Jake’s not really crazy, at least not in the clinical sense, but he is in the conversation. When I move from room to room, he tags along and flops down at my feet wherever I settle. Every room except the bathroom, because I draw the line there. Instead, he’ll lay down just outside the door. In a home that has never stressed knocking, it is a comfort to know that no one will ever walk in on me while Jake is around.

Another interesting habit that Jake has developed is winking – not randomly, but at appropriate moments. Usually when you are discussing how crazy he can get. It can’t help but leave you feeling that it’s all an act. His winking is Jake’s way of letting us in on it. Granny swears that Jake is Sicilian, although there is no evidence either way. She insists that she’s never seen anything like him except in the old country, where his type is a dime a dozen. I can never tell when Granny is kidding me, but I suspect she’s got a better sense of humor than I give her credit for.

There are a few canines who cross paths with Jake along the way, but there’s only one who fits into the family so well that he earns the “Crazy Dog” moniker.

If you’ve met the rest of the cast of “One Christmas Knight,” you know that’s high praise indeed.

Check out “One Christmas Knight” at its Amazon page

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