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The Yankee Express

The last gift given

A gift for Lincoln

By Amy LeClaire
Lincoln would have turned eleven on December 26, on the day after Christmas. We would celebrate by singing a wild and crazy rendition of the birthday song before presenting him with a slice of leftover prime rib, pegged with a candle. He’d smile to the melody (he knew the song was about him) and move his nose away from the flame, sensing the heat. Then we’d cut his slice into small pieces and let him at it. “He loves it!” we’d say, as though somehow surprised that our dog likes beef. Dogs do this for us. They make the small stuff the big stuff. They remind us of the spirit and magic behind life’s ordinary routines.  

 The last gift given.

Each season brought forth different routines. Winter (along with snow games) brought forth indoor sessions of baking and begging. “That smells sooooo good,” Lincoln said, his snout lifted while I baked gingerbread cookies. He never knew when a scrap of food might drop; he wasn’t taking any chances.  “I was just thinking – that gingerbread boy’s head got cut off. I could probably save you the hassle of putting him back together. Just a thought.” 
“Here you go, Lincoln.” He gulped the ginger-head down.  
  Now that I’m spending more time indoors (for winter), I find myself thinking about Lincoln’s presence by my side.  He’d press his face into the smallest of crevices to take care of fallen table scraps. I bend over to pick one up now, then hesitate. Lincoln would have loved that scrap.
My home certainly feels different now, but I’m at peace with a loss that’s also a gain. Lincoln gave us perspective and bundles of small joys to pass on to pups we’ve yet to meet. He also had an extraordinary short life full of “presence” and, also, presents. 
“Hey look! This wrapping paper stick rolls. On and on. Look at it go!” A typical pup, Lincoln was attuned to every detail as it unfolded before his eyes. “Another shoelace! Another shoebox!” However, back then, he couldn’t distinguish an actual present from the new surprises laid out before his sniffing nose. “More stringy fingers at the edge of rugs!” A puppy’s mind is a playground.  
Lincoln grew taller and wiser; and while the leonine mane of his chest grew thick, so did his desire for actual presents. Through the years he watched and learned. He knew that when my hands disappeared into the mouth of a bag—Let’s see who this one is for???—there was going to be something for Lincoln. He’d sit at my heels, chin up, on Christmas Eve while I led a “Secret Santa” gift exchange. He knew exactly what was happening. A gift was being shared. Mom was in charge of handing out gifts. Who would be the lucky winner?
“This one says it’s for Lincoln!” His stare (along with a slight invasion of my personal space) put me under pressure.  I had to make sure he opened first. He accepted his gift with pure fascination, as though each one was the first ever opened. “I can’t believe this is really happening!” He sniffed the gift as though it was alive, nosing and poking and finally looking up at me for help. “Let’s get to the bottom of this!” 
I tore off the paper. His brown eyes bloomed. “It’s a baby possum!” He’d sniff the stuffed animal suspiciously. “Could it be alive?” Then he’d thrash it around the room and pounce on it. 
“Look Daddy, it’s a possum and he’s dead!” He’d dominate an animal stuffed cheaply in China while we continued the gift exchange and celebrated Lincoln’s gratitude. “I’ll get you, possum.” He’d pull cotton from the animal’s belly using the only tiny part of his body, his front teeth.
“Lincoln…”  I’d pick up the wounded possum and cradle him in my chest, “You have to be eaaassy. It’s just a baby.”
“I’ll be easy. I didn’t mean it. Can I have my possum back?”
“You have to be easy.” I stroked the animal softly.
“I’ll be easy. Promise. Put him back down, please.”
Lincoln was intelligent. My tone of voice, along with his remarkable vocabulary, made an impact on his behavior. He chewed more gently while, paranoid, he tossed me guilty glances. “Be easy with the possum,” I scolded with a facetious grin.
My attempt to protect the stuffed possum wore thin. It wasn’t long before the poor animal bled out more cotton. I had to intervene. “What are you doing to the possum’s guts, Mom?” I’d pull cotton from the animal’s belly as though reeling in the long braid of Rapunzel’s hair from a tower window. Lincoln watched with intrigue. “How much cotton did that little guy eat?” Then I’d tie the possum’s slimed coat into a knot and hand him back an evolved present. “What happened to you?” He’d sniff the emaciated possum and, nevertheless, sneak off to his nook beneath the dining room table to finish chewing.
On Lincoln’s passing, one of our veterinarian’s said it perfectly. “He was good until he wasn’t.” Lincoln found joy in every single activity until he couldn’t any longer. He wanted to play ball in the snow on the very last day of his life, and suffered for only a few hours. I look at a picture of the two of us on his last day. I’m holding up his paw. He’s smiling as though I’ve just handed him another gift. I’m devastated, but he’s still happy. I look at the picture again and the truth rises like vapor through my tears. “You love me enough to make sure that I’m happy every single moment. You love me enough to not let me suffer, even though you are in pain.” Lincoln knew this about me and while he licked away my tears, he gave me the last gift—the know that he was happy until he slept.  
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