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The Yankee Express

Who needs Santa?

By Amy LeClaire
Lincoln was a socialite. He loved the old and young, the plump and thin, the dark and light, the tall and small. He loved unconditionally and unabashedly. “You are the coolest person ever! Let’s celebrate you! Allow me to play with your gloves!” He would gallop around our front lawn with a new friend’s gear, thoroughly pleased with his sudden luck. A person had arrived! A typical Golden, Lincoln was social by nature—but there was one exception. 

He didn’t care for Santa Claus. The discovery announced itself, rather darkly, at PETCO in Auburn, a public pet store created for all things doggie. December Christmas shopping, I had thought, would be even more fun this year. “Lincoln can come, too!” I spoke his language and he responded with a wiggle and search for the closest ball available, just as he had on the final day of his life. Like a leopard’s spots, joy was a part of who Lincoln was. A tumor, tragedy, or illness would fail to take this quality from him. He found a way to concentrate on all that was good in his life. He wore rose colored glasses and, in doing so, kept pain at bay. Amongst all that I admire about Lincoln, his ability to choose joy over pain is what I’ll treasure the most. 
“You have to be easy.” I put the car in park and reviewed the shopping rules. He stared out the window at the store front then shot a glance back to me, as though needing more detail. “We’re going to see the other doggies.” A dirty towel hung from his mouth like an oversized mustache while he celebrated his good fortune and did the math. A parking lot, a store front, dogs. Life couldn’t get any better than this.
“Santa!” Somehow, it got worse.  
“Look, Lincoln – it’s Santa!” Lincoln did not want to look at Santa, let alone take a picture with him. “Let’s just get one picture for Daddy.” Lincoln’s Daddy, my husband, had never cared about dog pictures with Santa. Yet I found myself clinging to empty promises like a frayed mother with a toddler. “You look so handsome.” I pulled him towards a hired Santa whom, I must confess, was not overly gleeful. He sat stiff and angular, coupons resting upon his lap while Lincoln hid his face between my legs. I pulled him forward. His head flattened like a deflated tire while he stiffened in protest and tried to free himself from a loose collar.
“Let’s just get one picture, Lincoln.” He turned his head away from me. “Dislike.” I can’t recall exactly how I managed to pull my largest male of the litter to Santa’s side, but I’m thinking junk food may have been involved. “Say – Happy Holidays!” The photographer stayed the course and did his job. By virtue of being a dog (they smile when nervous) Lincoln cooperated and smiled with a tongue hanging out. The camera’s flash captured the odd couple that became us, Anxious Dog and Proud Mom. “One more in portrait mode?” 
My mind conjured the image of a confident Lincoln pictured within the perimeter of an 8 x 10 frame, a twinkle in his eye while he looked down on us from the fireplace mantel. I pet his head softly. My pedigree was so handsome. He lifted his chin, looked up at me, and revealed a harsher truth. “I’ll be joyful, but I cannot stand this man.” 
I needed to get Lincoln out of there, and fast. An 8 x 10 portrait for only $7.99 felt suddenly selfish. “Thank you so much but we’re going to pass.” Had Lincoln sensed a phoniness in Santa that kids, drawn to the prospect of presents alone, had failed to discern? Or was it a beard that sagged a few inches shy of reality that turned him off? 
“You’re such a good boy, Lincoln.” In any event, the incident became a distant memory as we found ourselves immersed in his favorite aisle.  I laid out a colorful row of balls, all different shapes and sizes. He sniffed. He browsed. He perked.
An extra-large neon-bright tennis ball captured his attention. He nuzzled it with cautious curiosity, as though a bird may have been nestled inside the ball. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ball this big.” He pawed it, rolled it forward, then covered it with big paws, as though protecting a baby.
I knew before I knew. The neon ball was cheap and hollow. Given Lincoln’s fierce grip on the ball’s flimsy shell, this one would not stand a chance. He’d crack it open like an egg, just as he had so many others. I picked it up. His gaze followed my hands. “What are you going to do with that ball?” Entranced, his eyes followed my hands. “I promise this time I’ll protect the ball. I’ll just hold it. I won’t break it. I’ll just hold it. I’ll go easy. Can I just play with that ball, please?” 
“Do you have a card with us?” The cashier wore a festive Santa’s hat with bells. “That will be eight dollars and seventy-five cents.”
She bagged the ball while Lincoln sat charmingly patient. (He adored cashiers).
“Is that the dog in the paper? Here you go, Lincoln!” His status earned him a few extra treats. He gulped and chewed while I ripped the tags off of the ball so that he could play in the car. He trotted by my side and followed the ball’s journey. We settled in. I started the car and handed him an early Christmas gift. He wedged it between his paws, looked up at me and broke into his typical joyful smile, a gift to me. 
Who needs Santa? 
Tell me your Christmas 
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