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The Yankee Express

Luke finds the Merry in Grinchmas

Luke Valentino is perfectly fine with a photo op; here he poses for the camera while on a Christmas shopping spree.


Christmas shopping 2022 has been interesting, especially alongside a puppy named Luke Valentino. The retail industry is short staffed, short fused, and short on certain sizes. Not enough help. Not enough patience. Not enough hours in the day to curb long lines of shoppers who sneeze into their elbows, yet still leave us suspicious. Which variant might she be carrying?  Tis the season to stay home, I thought to myself one Tuesday, December afternoon, despite managing a To Do list that seemed do-able. 

1.   Return an oversized rug purchased at Amazon at Kohl’s.
2. Shop for a few Christmas gifts.
3. Vacuum my car. (I’ve found the process of sucking up dirt and washing windows to cleanse my attitude as well). 

Like most zealous Christmas shoppers, I wanted to Get Things Done. Little did I know that a series of unfortunate events were about to foil a well-laid plan. 
“We can’t take that rug back. You’ll need to bring it to Michael’s for the return. The label is for UPS.” The Kohl’s Sales Associate wore a nametag claiming her title. She stated the rule with knowledge, though I couldn’t help but notice the glimmer of smile at her lips. Perhaps, she secretly didn’t want to help me. Truthfully, who could blame her? My fixation with area rugs (buying and changing) was becoming a problem. 
“Okay,” I sighed. The rug sagged heavily on my shoulder, compromising a reserve of energy I typically have for shopping mayhem. I felt like a scrawny Santa carrying a sack, and who was soon to ride in a dirty sleigh. Others waiting in line gazed up from their phones to eavesdrop. Their concern, I knew, lay in being first in line. 
I hauled the rug back to the car, popped the trunk and stuffed it back in. Luke popped his head out of the sunroof and smiled. “I’m so glad you’re back!” My puppy found joy simply upon seeing me.  “We have to go to Michael’s now, Luke.” 
Keys in ignition; I backed up and made my way to Michael’s. Slow-moving pedestrians crossed the street. I waved them by and found a snug parking spot.
The 6’ x 9’ sack hung tiredly over a weakened shoulder. “I was just sent here from Kohl’s,” I huffed. “Apparently you’re able to take returns with UPS labels?”  
The employee, as one might guess, did not come with the softness of her store’s silk flowers. “We can’t take a rug without a box.” 
My eyes settled on her grey roots. My upper body slouched to the dead weight of an unwanted rug. More productively, my mind wandered to the Michael’s storage room, where I imagined castles and castles of cardboard boxes stacked wide and high amongst spools of satin ribbon. The sales associate did not read my mind. Instead, she said, ‘I can’t take that.”
“You don’t have one cardboard box to spare in this entire store?” With my free arm, I gestured to the store’s abundant decorations. Hadn’t these items been delivered to the store in boxes? 
“Unfortunately we don’t,” she spat back. “You need to bring it to UPS and have it fully taped up. There’s a UPS in Auburn,” she added, as though traveling to a third location was helpful. I contemplated a third trip. Then I was struck by an ironic memory—that of my puppy attacking the missing box as would a lion his prey. He enjoyed every moment of dominating that box as it popped and bounced about the floor like a geometric cartoon. Back then it was funny, but now—
 “Thank you,” I said, and hauled the rug back to the car. Luke popped his head out of his box and smiled. “Hi there! It’s such a nice day outside! Love you, Momma!” 
It still was funny. 
“Guess where we’re going, Luke?” I needed to align my attitude with my puppy’s optimism. His head squared. He smiled and listened intently. 
“We’re going to get Lukey a present!” 
“No way!” He did a puppy dance on the floor of his crate.  He understood the majority of my message. “We’re going to get Luke” was a phrase he knew, as was “going to get.” Lastly, he knew his baby name. “I can’t believe this is happening!” 
I drove to the opposite side of the Mall, parked, and walked my puppy to the Mall’s sidewalk. The Cookie Crumb’l storefront sign sailed into view. We followed the warm aroma of freshly baked cookies to an outdoor bench and sat down. 
“What’s your puppy’s name? Can I pet him? Oh my gosh, this puppy just made my day!” Person after person came over to pet Luke. I broke off warm pieces of a peanut butter cookie to share with my social pup. We told dog stories and laughed. Holiday music filled the air. Luke listened to every person, and lifted his paw. He understood. He validated. He loved unconditionally. The bitter edges of shopping turmoil crumbled away like pieces of cookie. Luke Valentino had offered the public a special dog’s gift, that of Presence. 
Then came a Christmas miracle.
There, across the street, in front of Longhorn Steakhouse to be exact, I saw it with my very own eyes—a massive, brown UPS truck. My legs wobbled as I grabbed Luke’s leash. Within seconds, the two of us floated towards the truck. The UPS driver, amused by us, rolled down his window. “That is the cutest pup I’ve ever seen.”
“Thank you.” I struggled to breathe. “I’m so happy to have found you.” Luke looked up at me, then at the driver. “We’re so happy to have found you!” 
“I have a rug,” I huffed. “In my car. That way,” I gestured. “We have a rug!” Luke said, sitting proudly at my heels. “I brought it to Kohl’s, then to Michael’s,” I went on. “Wrong size. I was told I’ll need a box in order to return it to you.” My problem spilled from me.
He nodded to the back of his truck. “I don’t have a ton of room back here.”
My heart sank. 
“Wanna’ play chase?”
Then the driver chuckled like Saint Nick and his cheeks became rosy. “I can make room for your rug. Where are you parked?”
 “Seriously? That is so kind of you!” I said. “I have a stuffed cherry pie in the car!” Luke added, trying to keep up.
Minutes later, the three of us congregated at the trunk of my car, where we fumbled to squish the rug into a well-behaved square and seal the deal. “You know what? I can do this in my truck.” The driver seemed skeptical of my packing ability. Nonetheless, the Saint Nick of UPS hopped back up into a tall seat and waved good-bye. 
Meanwhile, Luke and I made one last stop. Shopping wouldn’t be the same without a present for Luke Valentino. 
The PetSmart sweater fit him perfectly, and the inscription said it best.
“Merry Grinchmas!” 
Thanks to my puppy, I was able to put the Merry back in Christmas that day. 

Write to Amy at [email protected] 
Find Luke on Instagram @livingwithlukevalentino