"Live a good life, and in the end, it's not the years in the life, it's the life in the years."

Christmas delayed

By on November 24, 2020 in Columnist with 0 Comments

By Darlene Matule

One-thousand-nine-hundred-forty-five miles from the State of Washington, my husband Steve and I were forced to face our first-ever Christmas without family. It had been a tough year.

But we had each other — and our dear miniature Schnauzer, Shadow.

When I got home from work Monday night, Steve was beside himself.

“Shadow’s disappeared!” he cried.

“My God! What happened?” I asked.

“I wish I knew,” he choked. “After I got home, I took her for a walk — like always. Down the street behind us. Where they’re building those new houses.

“I started dinner. Turned on TV. Listened to the news. Didn’t think twice about letting her outside when she stood at the sliding glass door and whined — like she does when she has to go.

“Five minutes later, I went to let her in. No Shadow. Our backyard was empty.

“I rushed outside. Called and called. Nothing. Took off down the street. Retraced every step Shadow and I’d made before.”

“She never wanders,” I said. “What could have happened?”

“Believe me,” he said, “I’ve been doing nothing but thinking for two hours. And I hate to tell you — but I’m afraid she was snatched!”

“Snatched?”

“Stolen! Grabbed! I should have known that guy was up to no good.”

“What guy?” I asked.

“One of the workers at the new house behind us. He grilled me about Shadow. ‘Your dog a real Schnauzer?’ he asked. ‘She got papers?’”

My stomach felt like a five-pound brick had raced through my esophagus, hit bottom, and bounced twice before landing.

Steve and I scoured the neighborhood ’til dark, until we couldn’t see farther than a foot in front of us.

Shadow was nowhere.

We both broke down when we got home.

That night I put her bed out on the front porch. Left a bowl of food beside it — just in case.

It was cold that night… 

Twenty degrees on our outside thermometer. Could she possibly survive?

The next day — Christmas Eve — I had to work until noon. Steve spent the morning checking the local pounds. Nothing.

* * *

Five years before, daughters Stephanie, Michele, and I had joined to buy Steve a special Christmas gift — a three-month-old miniature German Schnauzer. From the beginning, wherever Steve went, his dog followed — hence her name — Shadow.

Now — when we’d already lost so much that year — Shadow disappeared from our lives.

It’s not fair! I yelled silently.

Up until then, Shadow had been Steve’s dog. Exclusively.

I just liked her — or so I thought. Now that she was gone, I realized I’d grown to love her.

Every evening after Shadow’s disappearance, I warmed her bed and put it on the front porch with a dish of fresh dog food.

Nothing. Night after night.

Steve cooked French toast the next Sunday morning. We missed the click of Shadow’s toenails when she rushed to the kitchen — on point when she smelled the batter. Steve always cooked extra, knowing how much she loved it. Now we remembered how Shadow sat at our feet those days as she ate out of her dish. To tell you the truth, it was hard to swallow that first Sunday.

Every night I sat in my favorite chair. Automatically patted my left knee. But no little ball of black fur jumped into my lap. I missed the 12-pound blanket I’d come to cherish.

Steve kept checking the pound. Reading the Lost and Found in the newspaper. It was as if Shadow had disappeared into thin air.

The champagne I ceremoniously drank every New Year’s Eve tasted flat that year. After nine days of nothing, I sadly gave up.

* * *

On New Year’s Day, Steve opened up the paper. Whooped.

“Look at this!” he cried. “Found! Black German Schnauzer!”

But his joy was short lived. He called the number. Was told, “We had that darling little dog for seven days. But she disappeared last night. Guess the fireworks scared her.”

Still, we got their address — about a half mile away — on the other side of the vacant property next to us.

“She’s somewhere out there,” I said. “We’ll find her.”

Steve and I put on our boots and trooped on foot across no-man’s land.

“Maybe she’ll smell our scent,” he said.

I prayed.

We stopped and talked to the couple who’d rescued Shadow.

“She showed up on our front steps on Christmas Eve. Cutest little thing you’ve ever seen,” the woman gushed.

We checked at house after house. One man said, “I saw the dog you’re talking about on Monday evening. She was running down the street like she was being chased by a bear.”

No one else had seen her.

“We know she was in good shape just twelve hours ago,” Steve assured me.

“It was cold last night,” I worried.

We walked up one street and down another. No Shadow.

“Let’s take a swing around in the car,” Steve suggested when we got back home. We drove — slowly — through the adjacent neighborhoods. I leaned out the passenger window shouting, “Shadow! Shadow!” Nothing.

Our house was two blocks off the nearby arterial, and I must admit, I used up two tissues before we approached home.

As we pulled into our driveway, a flash zoomed out of our open garage. Tires squealed as Steve smashed the brakes down. Almost before the car stopped, I dashed out my car door and scooped up a quivering black ball.

Our Shadow had found her way home.

* * *

Because dogs can’t talk, we never found out the whole story. Steve is sure the workman who’d made such a fuss over Shadow stole her.

But how did she get away from her abductor? We’ll never know.

Steve and I returned to Shadow’s rescuers later that day with a potted plant and happy smiles.

* * *

In the midst of the worst of times, we received the best of gifts — our family had been reunited by He-who-guided-her-footsteps-home. 

I looked up and whispered, “Thank you.”

Darlene Matule is a local writer living in Wenatchee.

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