My sons were five and eight, with visions of Star Wars toys and Santa dancing through their heads. My sister, brother-in-law and their two adult daughters were celebrating Christmas at our house for the first time. Nobody, aside from my husband and me, knew that there would be a magical gift. It was going to be a puppy Christmas, the kind Christmas memories are made of.
We already had Shiloh, a dog we adopted when he was young but almost full-grown. But both boys, naturally, had been asking for a puppy. “A puppy named Scruffy,” the five-year-old would say. Maybe some day, I said. I envisioned a darling Labrador puppy, perhaps. My husband was pushing for a bulldog. I gave in. One Saturday we told the boys he was working and he drove to a breeder and picked out a feisty English bulldog whom the breeder called Bob.
I met Bob one dark, pre-Christmas evening on a clandestine visit to the home of a trainer who would board him for a few days before we gave him to the boys. He was by no means small, but he was still a puppy. I was overwhelmed by Bob’s boundless energy and bullheaded ways, but won over by his cute, curmudgeonly face.
On Christmas Eve, my husband took Bob from the trainer and moved him to a vacationing neighbor’s garage, where he spent the night in a crate. Bob howled all night despite frequent visits from my husband. He was sure the boys would hear the howling, or see him letting Bob out for a couple of short walks in the dark so Bob could take care of business.
Christmas morning arrived. My bleary-eyed husband was almost more excited than the boys. We couldn’t wait to see the looks on their faces when Bob made his appearance. He would be the last gift presented.
We watched the boys run into the living room to see all of the gifts that Santa had delivered. After opening our presents under the tree, we moved to the family room, where Santa left small surprises in everyone’s stockings. We sat around talking and my husband snuck out of the room. Nobody knew one gift was still to come.
There was a delay. I wondered what was keeping my husband.
It was the strong smell we noticed first. Then a scampering across the hardwood floors and the jingling of bells tied around Bob’s neck. A foul-smelling bulldog bounded straight through the family room and out the patio doors as my horrified family jumped from the floor to furniture to get out of its way. “Eeeewwww!”, my niece yelled. “What’s that smell?” Any lovely, Christmas pine scents that may have lingered in the air were overtaken by the scent of Bob. “Where did that dog come from?,” my eight-year-old wondered, astounded. Then the light went on in his head. The stinky, roving creature that had cleared the room was his new puppy. Merry, merry Christmas. Meet Bob. Indeed, a scruffy puppy.
Apparently Bob had a rough night in the crate and rolled around in a mess that no darling Christmas gift of a dog should ever roll in. My husband tried to give him a quick bath before he brought him to our house, but it would take much more than that.
The dog was eventually corralled and cleaned in the back yard, after everyone had calmed down and accepted that this creature was here to stay. “Let’s call him Scruffy Bob,” suggested my five-year-old.
So the Christmas morning surprise turned out to be a little more than we bargained for. There were no magical, cute little boys discovering their cute little puppy moments. Bob simply disgusted my poor nieces. But now, years later, when I ask the boys what memory of Christmas first pops into their head, there’s no doubt what they’ll always say.
“The Scruffy Bob Christmas.”