Stroke by Stroke

Stroke by Stroke

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

Stroke by Stroke

I pushed through the crowd huddled in winter coats. There lay Blackie in the snowy street. I fell at my collie’s feet and spread my arms around her as if to protect her from further injury. Not a car stirred that cold Sunday morning—nothing moved at all except her soft tricolor fur and my tears.

“Why don’t they come?” I looked at the sad faces above me. “Why don’t they hurry?” I was sure they would save her life . . . unfortunately there was nothing left to save.

My parents led me away, while, hand stretched back to my beloved pet, I called out to her for the last time, “Blackie, oh, Blackie.”

Christmas joy extinguished as fast as the hit-and-run vehicle had skidded along the icy road. Tinsel on the tree lost its sparkle, stockings by the fireplace their promise, red and green chocolate kisses their sweetness. Without a collie curled up on the Oriental rug, gray became the holiday color.

Mom lost interest in her baking. My cousins no longer pinned sequins on Styrofoam balls. My brother abandoned his ice skates. Worst of all, the carols on the stereo could not be heard above my relentless wail. The crying jag took on a life all its own. Even Dad’s lap, usually the solution for all problems, held no answers at this time.

Until Grandfather got involved. “Can’t someone stop that noise?”

Startled, I held my breath . . . not certain it was safe to sob anymore.

My Aunt Veramina’s gentle words softened the atmosphere. “Come with me to your room, Margaret, so I can brush your hair.”

My hand in hers, we followed the garland-wrapped banister up to the second floor of the big colonial house. She sat me down in a pink frilly chair and took my brush from the grooming set on the dresser top.

“Now, doesn’t that feel better?” she asked as she loosened my long braids and with her competent hands, pulled the bristle brush through my thick auburn tresses.

The spasms of crying relaxed. A sniffle sputtered out. A whimper crept away. Finally, I filled my grief-weary lungs with one long restorative breath.

Under my aunt’s soothing strokes of kindness, my head tilted back and forth. The rhythm, much like that of a rocking chair, changed the sadness of the day into the peace of the moment.

Sometime later, my braids and I bounced down the stairs. At my appearance in the living room, I heard a combined breath drawn. I leaned over the box of ornaments and, by coincidence, chose the large glass teardrop. This tear wasn’t sad; it was merry, very merry—shocking pink with gold embroidered trim. When I hung it on the fragrant spruce, I felt a combined sigh of relief around me.

“Here,” said Grandfather, as he handed me his peace offering of fresh pecans. With aged fingers around a silver nutcracker and pick, he had labored to extract the meat of six unbroken pieces for his granddaughter.

“Thanks, they’re my favorite.” I popped one into my mouth.

It seemed like someone suddenly flipped a power switch. The stereo hummed “Winter Wonderland.” Sequins whizzed onto Styrofoam balls, powdered sugar onto cookies. And my brother zoomed toward the door, skates over his shoulder, “Anyone wanna join me at the park?”

Funny how on that tragic day, all the season’s colorful trimmings and trappings combined had not been able to restore Christmas joy like one plain bristle brush in my aunt’s hands. To be sure, I never forgot Blackie. But within a few days, a new collie dog had curled up beside me on the Oriental rug.

Margaret Lang

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