Early December, our dog had puppies in the barn. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why the litter came out white—our dog was black. The puppies looked like cotton piglets.
All except one.
One was black and white spotted—like a Holstein cow. After much deliberation, I named him Milkbone. Daddy thought the name lacked punch. But he agreed to let me keep Milk as my one and only Christmas gift.
Before Milk was old enough to open his eyes, I’d watch him nurse beneath the heat lamp. He’d crawl around on his belly like a slug, nosing for his mother.
When he finally pulled his eyes open, I’d like to think I was one of the first things he saw.
Sappy. I know.
For Christmas, Milk spent the holiday on my lap. He wore a small bandanna around his neck, sitting at attention while everyone opened gifts. Then Daddy handed me a box.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Santa felt sorry for you,” said Daddy.
It was a dog collar. Orange, with a gold tag. The tag was the shape of a bone, with “Milkbone” etched on it.
Daddy beamed. “That silly name is official now.”
In the following months, Milk got bigger. He was a healthy specimen. His paws were ten-sizes too big for his lanky frame.
His was a good life. All he ever did was pee and make apple butter.
Together, Milk and I wandered all over God’s creation. He slept on my bed. I fed him scraps from my plate. He was the kind of dog who kept a few paces behind me at all times. And you can’t train dogs to do that. They either do or they don’t.
A few years went by. One day, while riding the school bus home, the worst. Somebody pointed out the window and screamed.
“LOOK!” the boy hollered.
It was lying in the dirt road. Something black and white with an orange collar. My stomach went sour. My ears started ringing. I can’t remember much after that.
What I do remember is Daddy and I riding out to retrieve the body. It was cold. Stiff. If you’ve never carried a stiff dog, I hope you never do.
We buried Milk in the pasture. Daddy removed his cap and said a few words.
“Dear Lord,” he began. “We don’t know what you’re doing half the time. I guess you just got selfish and wanted Milk for yourself. Take good care of Milk, Lord.”
Everything I’ve ever owned has been covered in dog hair.
And now you know why an orange collar hangs on my Christmas tree.