Greg Kincaid is the author of A Dog Named Christmas. His next book, the prequel Christmas with Tucker, is now available at Amazon.com, BN.com, Borders.com, and all major retailers. You can also read Greg’s previous blog posts for Petfinder and visit him at www.facebook.com/ authorgregkincaid.
Over the last two weeks, Greg shared Christmas with Tucker’s prologue and chapter 2, in which we meet a tethered dog and the family who takes him in when his neglectful owner is arrested. This week, their story continues. Enter here for a chance to win a signed copy of Christmas with Tucker. (Official Rules)
From Christmas with Tucker: Ch. 3
As I let the kitchen door slam behind me, it occurred to me that, like an elephant or a giraffe, a dog was foreign to the McCray farm. The adult words, spoken frequently by my father and by my grandfather, too, came rushing back to me. “Dairy cattle and dogs don’t mix, George. Quit asking for a puppy.”
For years I grumbled about it, as any kid would, but like hot days in February, I accepted that dogs were not part of the McCray landscape.
Now this no-name dog was sitting in the truck and I didn’t know what to make of it. Part of me was excited, but there were other, unsettling feelings, too. At that point in my life, I needed the world to be arranged according to rules that I could count on, even when those rules were unpopular.
In my life, the one rule that children counted on most had been broken: Parents don’t leave their children. That rule I considered inviolate. For me, there was an obvious corollary, too: A boy doesn’t lose his dad in a tractor accident on a hot summer afternoon. My father, John Mangum McCray, was here one morning as he had always been, ate breakfast, went outside to work, and by that afternoon, was gone forever.
Now this dairy cattle and dogs don’t mix rule was being broken, too. Deep down, I was sure that I would never be allowed to have a dog, and though I resented it, it was still one of the rules that I counted on to keep my crumbling universe in order. It was somehow frightening to see this rule broken. Which rule was going to be broken next? What had I done wrong to be the only kid in my school who had lost a parent? I felt as if I were being punished, but I didn’t understand why. Somehow, my father’s death spoke some dark truth about me. Surely, good kids didn’t lose their dads — only the unworthy and the undeserving are so fated. What had I done?
There was more swirling around in my mind, too. I put my hand on the stock gate release and hesitated before pulling the latch. Surprises had lost their appeal. I just didn’t know what to do or how to feel about this most recent unplanned event. The latch release needed oil and it creaked as I opened the rear stock gate. I made a note to myself to squirt some oil on the hinge. Standing in the truck bed, hesitant but with his tail wagging, was a beauty of a dog. I had never seen Thorne’s dog up close. Though he seemed thin and needed cleaning up, he had long red hair and looked to be an Irish setter. I opened the door fully and reassured him. “It’s okay, boy. I won’t hurt you. Come on, jump on down.”
He took very little coaxing. He ran at me full speed and jumped. Surprised, I scrambled backward and fell onto my backside. Instinctively, I raised my arms over my head to protect my face from an attack.
This assault was not, however, of a violent nature. In fact, it was more a matter of his smothering me with affectionate kisses and trying to nuzzle me to my feet. The dog put his cool, wet nose to my face as if we were the closest of friends, cruelly separated but now reunited. I laughed and pushed him away gently. “Enough!”
It was no use; he was back on me, demanding attention. I got up and took a few steps, hoping to gain some separation, but he chased after me, nipping playfully at my feet. He seemed to take great pleasure in knocking me to the ground so he could jump back on me and pummel me with canine attention.
Trying a different tactic, I just froze. He backed a few feet away from me and started barking, demanding that I play with him. I started to run away, hoping he would chase after me, but he was so excited that he set out circling the house at full speed, his big, floppy, red ears going up and down as he bounded by me. I wondered if doggie Christmas had arrived early for this pooch.
After two quick loops around the house, he decided to return his focus to running circles around me like an Indian war party, substituting yelps and excited high-pitched barks for war cries. I decided to take the offense and dove on top of him, knocking him down. Before he could recover, I jumped up and ran off. He rolled over, and we began a long game of tag, now both of us circling around the yard at a furious pace.
We wrestled, ran, and played for nearly an hour, until finally the sun began to set. The dog seemed to have endless energy, so eventually I just collapsed on the ground and covered my face with my arms. He rested his head on my chest while I tried to catch my breath.
The back porch door slammed as Grandpa walked out and calmly petted the dog as he rested by my side. He shaped a homemade collar and leash by making a slipknot in an old
length of rope and looped it around his neck. “Come on, boy,” he said reassuringly.
The dog followed my grandpa obediently. He was a totally different creature now — alert, quiet, and respectful — like he was working and not playing. Grandpa walked him around the yard for a few minutes. Then he led the dog toward me as if to reintroduce us.
They stopped a few feet away from me and, as he was apt to do, Grandpa summed up the dog and my life in a few sentences. “He’s a bit older for a puppy, but he has great potential. You can practice with this dog for a month or so. Maybe, after Christmas, when you go to Minnesota, your mom will let you get a dog of your own.”
“I’m not sure if I want to go to Minnesota.”
“Your mother misses you. She needs you.”
My dad wasn’t the only rule breaker. My mom had “left” me, too — albeit with my blessing — moving off the farm at summer’s end to be near her parents in Minnesota. My sisters were both in college there and Mom, wrapped in grief, simply couldn’t bear to be on the farm without my dad. Back in August, when she decided we should move, I asked her if I could stay for a while longer.
I understood that she needed to get a new start on life, but I just wasn’t ready to leave. I asked to stay on the farm until Christmas, and she reluctantly agreed. It had seemed so simple, but I was beginning to realize that the plan had grown complicated as each passing day made me question what “home” really meant.
“Don’t put me in the middle of this, George.”
I took the homemade leash away from him. “The truck gate needs oil. I’ll do it.”
“Dinner will be ready soon,” he said, as if he were relieved to change the subject, too. “It’s going to turn cold tonight. After you oil the hinge, you had better plug the heaters into the stock tanks or your chickens won’t have water. By the end of the week, it could start snowing, too.” He looked down at our new charge. “When you’re finished, please put Frank’s dog on the back porch, where he can stay warm.”
He started to turn away, so I caught his attention. “Grandpa?”
“Yes,” he said, turning back to me.
“I don’t think Mr. Thorne deserves a dog if he is going to just tie it up all day.”
Grandpa paused for a few seconds, considering his words. “I don’t know about that. All I know is that Thorne is gone for now. So I did him a favor. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did what I thought I had to do.”
He stood there for a few moments longer, alternating glances between me and the dog. He seemed lost in thought. Finally, he turned away and walked toward the back porch of our old house, but not before issuing one last instruction. “George, if it snows on Friday, as much as they say it might, I’ll need you to help with the morning milking while I run the road maintainer. Can you do that?”
Shrugging my shoulders, I said, “Sure, I guess,” and walked off to do my work.
Excerpted from Christmas with Tucker by Greg Kincaid. Copyright ©
2010 by Greg Kincaid. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division
of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may
be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the
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