Ruby's Gift: A Christmas Story

by Carrie Anne Noble

Some people called Ruby a bad dog, and it was kind of true.
The summer I turned eleven, my brothers, sister, and I found Ruby on our porch. She was sitting there like a fluffy, black-and-white, tail-wagging package left by the UPS man. A really smelly package.
On the spot, five-year-old Janie named the dog Rubella Polio (words she’d learned from pamphlets in the pediatrician’s waiting room, being too advanced a reader for Highlights magazine). When I suggested we call the dog Ruby for short, the big fur ball jumped up and gave me a slobbery kiss.
“You’re welcome,” I said, wiping the doggy drool off my cheek with the hem of my t-shirt.
Ben and Doug, my three-year-old twin brothers, let the dog into the house before Mama could object. Not that Mama would have. Mama didn’t do much objecting back then. She didn’t do much other than stare silently at the kitchen wall. If Daddy had come back from the Afghanistan war instead of going to heaven, things would have been different. Before, Mama laughed and sang half the day away. Before, Mama spent hours cooking exotic dinners with unpronounceable names. With Daddy gone, it seemed to take all her strength to boil potatoes.
So, the boys and I gave Ruby a good scrubbing in the downstairs shower. Afterwards, she smelled like coconuts and wet dog, and she was ours.
The next day, Ruby started bringing stuff home. Not stuff you might expect a dog to drag home, like cheeseburger wrappers, dirty diapers, or other dogs’ chew toys. No, Ruby brought home gifts.
The first thing Ruby brought was a bag of barbecue potato chips. (We hadn’t told Ruby they were Mama’s favorite, or that it was Mama’s birthday.) We tied a bow around the chips, sang “Happy Birthday,” and made a party out of it. Mama smiled for three whole minutes.
Two days later, Ruby brought home a pair of Janie-sized, pink, polka dot socks. Janie wore them on her first day of kindergarten, and swore they were the reason she made three new friends before lunch.
In September, Ruby brought home two boxes of my favorite macaroni, several damp comic books for Ben and Doug, a one-armed doll for Janie to nurse, a coupon for free doughnuts, and a yellow scarf. Ruby’s tail slapped the porch with doggy joy whenever she presented us with her findings, so we didn’t have the heart to tell her stealing was a sin.
When Grandma came to visit in October, she called Ruby “a giant, germy, mongrel pest,” and said she’d take her to the SPCA first thing Monday morning. But Ruby ran off and didn’t come back until Tuesday--after Grandma’s Cadillac left the driveway.
Sometimes that fall, I’d catch Mama petting Ruby’s soft head or scratching under her chin. I thought it was a sign Mama was getting a little better. And even a little better was a big deal to me.
When Thanksgiving rolled around, Ruby brought us a voucher for a free turkey from George’s Market. She also brought home the head from the Flynn family’s plastic pilgrim lawn decoration. We buried the head in the garden while Mama stuffed the turkey. Next, Mama got out her fattest cookbook and made sweet potato casserole and green beans with fancy sauce. After dinner, Mama said she was thankful for us kids and Ruby, and she only cried a little.
In the beginning of December, Ruby brought home a snow shovel with a bent handle, and three mittens.
But then, Christmas Eve, Rubella Polio did something very, very bad. That dog brought home the baby Jesus statue from the Oak Avenue Presbyterian Church’s front lawn.
Ben and Doug loved that baby Jesus all morning. They wrapped him in towels and sang him “Away in a Manger” over and over. They tucked him into their old stroller and gave him a wild ride through the entire first floor, laughing so loudly that they woke up Mama from her Saturday morning sleep-in.
When Mama saw baby Jesus, she knew right away where he’d come from. Her face went whiter than milk and then redder than ketchup. She scolded Ruby and sent her slinking out the door and onto the snow-covered porch. And then Mama went and put on the dress I’d ironed hoping she would take us to the Christmas Eve service.
“Mind your brothers and sister,” she told me as she buttoned her green wool coat and clutched baby Jesus to her chest.
When she came back an hour later, Mama looked different somehow.
That afternoon, we strung popcorn and cranberries, and Mama got the musty plastic Christmas tree down from the attic. The twins sang “Deck the Halls” and messed up the words so badly that Mama couldn’t stop laughing.
Tucked in my bed that night, I heard Mama open the front door, followed by the click of Ruby’s toenails on the wood floors. Not long after, I smelled the heavenly scent of Mama’s Christmas-only, orange-cinnamon rolls baking—the ones she was too sad to bake last year.
Christmas morning, bits of wrapping paper flew as we tore into our clumsily wrapped gifts. We kids had given each other things Ruby had “helped” us get, things we’d kept hidden until then: a rubber ball, a pencil case, an eyeless teddy bear, a miniature book of Shakespeare’s sonnets (slightly warped), a satin pouch of Canadian nickels. Mama had wrapped special gifts for each of us, too--although none of hers came from Ruby. She gave Ben and Doug each a tiny glass elephant from her collection. Janie got one of Mama’s flowered teacups, and Mama gave me a book of French recipes.
Breakfast came next, with a lively discussion on how reindeer flew. We were licking the orange icing from our fingers when we heard Ruby barking on the porch.
I opened the door. Holding a red leather leash with Ruby attached was Reverend Craig from Oak Avenue Presbyterian. He was smiling like he’d won a million bucks.
“Merry Christmas,” the pastor said. “I think I found your dog.” He wasn’t looking at me when he spoke. He was looking at Mama. I’d never noticed how handsome Reverend Craig was before, or that he looked about the same age as Mama.
Mama smiled and blushed. “Would you care for a cinnamon roll?” she asked.
Reverend Craig stayed all Christmas day. He came back three times that week, and four times the next.
Like Ruby, he usually brought gifts: a box of candy, a board game, a DVD for us to watch huddled together on our long sofa, a bucket of fried chicken.
The funny thing was Ruby never brought anything else home once Reverend Craig took over. Maybe she knew we finally had everything we needed.
All story rights reserved by Carrie Anne Noble.
Carrie Anne Noble is the author of The Mermaid's Sister, winner of the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Young Adult Fiction. This story was inspired by her family dog--a naughty German Shepherd mix that brings home many truly icky things she should not. 
Find The Mermaid's Sister here on Amazon!


Popular posts from this blog

20 Witty Irish Sayings to Warm (or Chill) Your Heart

Spring Cleaning Writer Challenge

Upcoming Event News!