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Christmas and the Dogs

“Up Before Five – the Family Farm” seems to have been a success, if my few remaining boxes of only 200 books or so from the initial 1,000 printed is any indication. I attribute this to a general interest in nostalgia and that’s what this book was all about – looking back to a simpler time, before computers, iPods, cell phones and unforgiving regulations. It was a difficult life, but a simpler one in many ways, when neighbour worked with neighbour and families sat down to a meal – together.
Despite the long hours in winter “doin’ chores” when livestock animals were now in from pasture and needed to be looked after every day, there was always time for the Christmas season. That’s when I gave the cows their wiregrass hay instead of timothy for breakfast and they also got maybe just a bit more corn silage than their usual portions. The hens, a bigger pail of laying mash.
I think our dogs probably enjoyed Christmas as much as we did back in the early 1960s. They seemed to know they had gifts under the tree, and would visit the tree daily to investigate if anything else had arrived during their absence. For Chico, a fox terrier, there was always a king size rawhide beef chew or a new pipe and he knew it was there buried somewhere in among the parcels. On Christmas morning, we would give him the signal to retrieve his beef chew, then off he’d go to rummage around until he located the end of the cardboard on which it was mounted, gently pull it out, then trot into the kitchen with it, his entire body gyrating with gratitude as if pleading with us to now remove the plastic cover so he could get on with the task at hand.
That either of them understood the meaning of the gift exchange is doubtful; however, they managed to grasp the idea that it was somehow a special day and would take considerable interest in each parcel as it was unwrapped, investigating each one and its wrappings as they were handed out. Tails wagged, and eyes sparkled with excitement. They were right into Christmas as much as we were.
Rosita, an aging Chihuahua/Pomeranian mix, lived to the incredible age of 17, and during that time had posed for numerous photographs at Christmas, one depicting her, sitting up on her haunches in front of a miniature Christmas tree, and was subsequently incorporated into our Christmas cards that year.
Each year when Christmas comes, I can’t help but think back, even further, to the 1950s when I was growing up on the family farm at Big Island, just north of Demorestville. Those were special years, and sometimes I really wish that I could go back to those days, back to the days when Christmas wasn’t the almost vulgar commercialization that it is today. The days when the Sears Christmas catalogue didn’t arrive while October rains were still falling, and Christmas was measured in terms other than how far in debt we were going to get this year. When it was the thought that counted, and not the price tag.
What makes Christmas at our house today so special is taking those few precious moments to reflect on the Christmases of 40 or 50 years ago, and cherishing those memories. They were happy times.  

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About the Author: Terry Sprague became interested in nature at an early age. "Growing up on the family farm at Big Island, 12 miles north of Picton, on the shore of the beautiful Bay of Quinte, I was always interested in the natural world around me. During my elementary school days at the small one-room school I attended on Big Island, I received considerable encouragement from the late Marie Foster, my teacher in Grades 6 through 8. Her home was a short distance from where I lived and through the years she was responsible for developing my interest in birds. The late Phil Dodds, a former editor with the Picton Gazette, also a great nature enthusiast, suggested I undertake a nature column - a column I have submitted weekly since 1965. The column has since expanded to the Napanee Beaver and the Tweed News. Life has been good, and through the years I have enjoyed working with such nature related agencies as Glenora Fisheries Research as a resource technician, Sandbanks Provincial Park as a park interpreter and Quinte Conservation as a naturalist and outdoor events coordinator. As a nature interpreter, currently working from my home office, I now create and lead numerous interpretive events in the area and offer indoor audio/visual presentations to interested groups. Could one who is interested in nature have enjoyed a more exhilarating period in the work force?" Terry's website is

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  1. You’re darn tootin’, Dayton! We always had a red cedar for our Christmas tree and the aroma was amazing. Even to this day, when I walk through a field of red cedars, I think of the wonderful Christmases of the 1950s and 1960s. Purists today want to call them “red junipers”. No such thing in the eyes of those who had them as Christmas trees. To us, they were good old, common garden variety red cedars, and anyone who has them growing on their farm will agree that this is the name they go by, here in the County!

  2. Dayton Johnson says:

    Pretty sure that’s a ‘red cedar’ pictured. Considered a nuisance tree to some they grew wild in the pasture.If you could find a nice shaped green one there was nothing better. Cedar smell all over the warm house….unless you happened to cut one that had been marked by four-footed friends! It was our tree of choice for many years.

  3. Louisa says:

    I’ve been remembering too, over the past week, the many Christmases with dogs – 3 at once, at one point, plus a couple cats. They were always spoiled, and so were the horses and goats with their special pail of Christmas morning treats. I miss doing that. Now we’ve just one dog, and her stocking was hung on the fireplace, but since she has a new coat on order (due in a couple days) the stocking just represented the season as decoration. She gets so many treats throughout the year anyways, she wouldn’t know any difference at this time!

    Love the photos of your dogs Terry, especially that pipe-smokin’ one.

    Best wishes to you for 2012!

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