We were cleaning out the attic and came across the Lego box. The toy had seen heavy use; the cardboard box was crumpled, torn and stained. It wasn’t completely full and some of the pieces bore teeth marks, crayon stains and even evidence of having been burnt with a magnifying glass. My wife and I were trying to determine what to throw out, what to give to our adult kids, and what to simply haul to the barn to be gone through at a future date. One parent’s trash is another’s fondest memory. The Legos initiated a flashback of Christmases past.
My first Christmas out of vet school I lived in a rented farm house with a six year-old daughter, a four year-old son
and my seven-month-pregnant beautiful young wife. My hours as a new graduate were fair, yet as the new kid on the
block I was on call Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The kids had been practicing for a month for their roles in the Christmas play at church. My daughter was a bearded wise man and my son would play a cow. Neither one grew up to be in theater, so this story is not about dashing their hopes or revealing their potential. My wife’s goal had been to have a good meal Christmas Eve and then attend the play as a family. She had even borrowed a camcorder to record the event to send to the grandparents in Texas.
My job was to eat then go to the clinic and take care of the patients and boarders in time to make the play at church. The eating part was easy. After overfilling on buttermilk pie I dressed in my Sunday best and drove to the clinic, planning my strategy to efficiently complete the evening treatments. With any luck I would get done without a call and meet my “wise man” and “cow” in time to wish them luck and get a good seat.
At the clinic, the plan was simple; clean, treat and feed the inside animals and move to the outside kennels to finish up. Six dogs, two cats and one hedgehog later, the inside was complete. I yanked on a jacket, pulled rubber boots over my good shoes and stepped into the attached outdoor kennels. The air had gotten colder and it was really dark but I found the light switch and was welcomed by six hungry, tail wagging, barking boarders. The chain link kennels had been built on the back of the clinic. Over the years a roof had been added, a feed room built and the gate to the parking lot had been locked. The chain link fence went from the concrete floor to the roof and was attached to the clinic with brackets and bolts. Actually it resembled the exercise yard at a federal prison.
After stepping out back into the kennels, I closed the door to the clinic and started cleaning and feeding, humming
“Away in a Manger” and giving each of the large dogs a little more food. You could tell I was getting in the Christmas spirit. I got done in plenty of time to lock up and drive to the church. It was a Christmas miracle. I hit the
outdoor light switch and grabbed the doorknob to head back in. Nothing turned; the door back into the clinic was locked. I tried again; still locked. Again, yep still locked. I turned the light back on sending the dogs into another howling welcome, which enticed me into a so Christmassy tirade of descriptive adjectives and species degrading epitaphs. I tried the gate to the parking lot; locked solid. I tried the hinges, the wall bolts, I tried to lift up the bottom of the fence and I looked for any weakness along the gutter in the runs. The place was well built and I was trapped. My phone was inside the clinic on the counter. Time was ticking, dogs were barking and I knew my little “cow”
was putting on his Hereford hat and getting in line at the play.
In the light of the single bulb it caught my eye. On the top corner next to the wall was one piece of chain link wire barely sticking out. They were probably singing “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” by now. I had to act. Removing my tie, I wrapped my right hand and began to slowly unwrap the chain link. This was good heavy American stuff, not that cheap junk. Each pull and bend took a lot of effort. My tie was snagged and the wire cut into my arm but slowly I was unwinding the corner of the fence. The dogs had quit howling and the urgency of the moment had me focusing all my energy on unweaving the chain link. This made the escape from Alcatraz look like child’s play.
By now, I figured they were probably through the Christmas story and the wise men were bringing in the gifts. I yanked the corner down and, standing on a water bucket, lifted myself through the small gap, tumbling into the gravel parking lot. With agility never before seen I kicked off the rubber boots, unlocked the clinic’s side door, grabbed my phone and ran for the truck. Skidding into the church parking lot I doubled parked behind the Pastor’s car (he’d be the last to leave) and ran up the stairs, tying the tie. I arrived just in time to be handed a candle and join in singing “Silent Night”.
My wife shot me a glance, that to say the least, was not in the spirit of the season as the
kids, including my “wise man” and “cow”, paraded down the center aisle. My wife and I drove home in silence… no explanation would help my case. She had wanted one thing and I had failed. The kids were beaming, looking out the window of the truck for Santa and recounting the entire play. My cow had decided to cow kick the sheep next to him and my wise man had her beard snap up over her eyes but all in all I had missed the social event of their year. The silent night continued when we got home and got the kids to bed. Putting the toys under the tree, I decided to take the time and open the box of Legos. One thing led to another and soon my wife joined me there on the living room floor. We built a house and a barn complete with a truck and one cow/horse animal. We soon were talking about Christmases past and what we wanted to do in the future. I got my wife laughing about my unfortunate incarceration in the kennel and peace descended on my house.
I try to encourage all our Veterinarians to put their family first, take that vacation, leave for that game or ask for
the night off. We had been wrapped up for four years in school and that first Christmas my wife simply wanted
uninterrupted time. Work, meetings and everything else can be put on hold for at least a little time. Just take the
time – they are only cows and wise men once.
I will keep the Legos for myself. I also kept the video of the play. Right there at the end you see me standing at the back of the church, crumpled tie, blood trickling down my arm and yes, clear as day, my Santa boxers hanging out of the hole torn into my pants by the chain link. Merry Christmas.