The Taddy Year
The best thing about winter was the snow, or so little Maggie thought. She loved the way it covered everything in pretty apologies for the cold. Sipping her morning cocoa, she gazed out of the kitchen window. The last flakes of the storm rode a fading wind that couldn't seem to decide where to put all of the snow that had fallen from the sky. Silent, white-velvet mounds were everywhere. Landscapes had disappeared, homes looked like gingerbread houses and trees were magically transformed into frosted sculptures overnight. Like Christmas morning, everything was beautifully wrapped, sparkling and new.
Maggie smiled as the promise of making snowballs and jumping into drifts of crunchy-white tingles filled the air. The back door to the kitchen opened, and she turned to see Papa stomping the remnants of snow and ice from his boots on the thick doormat.
“No school today, magpie, but you probably guessed that already,” he said, smiling. Her father was a teacher, and no school for Maggie usually meant no school for Papa. “Did you finish the hot cinnamon oatmeal and cocoa I left for you on the stove warmer?”
She nodded, her face beaming with anticipation. “Isn’t the snow beautiful? And just in time for Christmas.”
“My back is telling me that it’s a darned nuisance.” Papa closed the door and hung his coat on a chair to dry. He had spent the early morning hours shoveling seven inches of his daughter’s beloved snow and there was still more waiting for him. Rubbing the cold from his hands, he glanced around the kitchen. “Where’s Taddy?”
Maggie’s smile faded as she looked toward the open door that led to the family room in the finished basement. “He’s still downstairs. I…I think he’s waiting for you.”
Taddy was the family Brittany spaniel. Except for vacations that took them away from home, he was their constant companion. Maggie always thought he was more Mama's dog and loved her best. When her mother’s life gave way to cancer the summer before, the 3-year old lost much of his spirit. He would often lie on the kitchen floor near the backdoor, listening for her step and the sound of her voice. The dog and his younger mistress had since withdrawn from each other, as if somehow marking the territory to their own grief.
Papa sat down on a kitchen chair as his daughter walked toward him. She was still in her warm flannel PJ’s but had hurriedly donned her snow boots that lightly scuffed across the linoleum floor. “But doesn’t the snow bring presents to all of us if we look really hard?” Maggie’s blue eyes widened…they seemed wiser than her seven and a half years and always tugged at her father’s heart.
“Well, you’re certainly not alone. Taddy seems to love the snow as much as you, but Brittany’s are well-suited to cold weather. Why don’t you go upstairs, get dressed and put on that snow suit hanging in your closet. I'll put Taddy in his kennel run out back. I still have more shoveling to do in the front of the house. By the way, your snow sled is ready and waiting for you,” he said, motioning to the back porch beyond the kitchen door.
“Ohhh…thank you!” Her face lit up and she gave she father a quick hug.
Papa watched her run into the hallway and up the stairs to her bedroom before he called out to Taddy. “Come on boy!” He heard the slow, resolute steps of the spaniel as he made his way up the steps and into the kitchen. At twenty-five pounds, he was the runt of his litter but athletic and sturdily built with long legs characteristic of his breed. His coat was snow white with splash-patterns of brownish-red, almost the same color as Maggie’s red hair and freckles. He ambled his way over to his master and looked up at him with expressive amber eyes that asked a question.
Papa gently stroked the dog’s silky forehead. “We miss her too, fella. But you have to help me out a little here. What’s going on between you and Maggie?”
Taddy lowered his head and walked to the kitchen door as though he was about to perform a tedious ritual. Papa sighed, got up from his chair and put on his thick coat. Grabbing the lead from the hook hanging on the back of the door, he snapped the metal clasp on the thick loop imbedded in the dog’s collar and led him outside.
Upstairs in her bedroom, Maggie finished zipping up her red and white snow suit and stuffed her auburn curls under the warm hood. She looked out of her window at the backyard below to see her father put Taddy into his long kennel-run and attach the lead to a rope that was secured to his dog house. Although smaller than most Brittany’s, he was an industrious little jumper and would somehow scramble his way over the thick wire fencing that surrounded his run. Neither Maggie nor Papa could see the chew-frayed section of rope that lay hidden beneath the snow.
Maggie snatched her woolen gloves from her bureau and hurried downstairs to the kitchen. When she opened the back door and stepped onto the porch, the cold misted air and vast winter white excited her senses. Smiling, she grabbed the rope to her sled and dragged it down the porch steps into the snow. As she made her way into the backyard, she heard metal clanging followed by a strange retching noise coming from Taddy’s kennel. When she turned to look toward the direction of the sounds, her voice caught in her throat.
Taddy had leapt up the kennel wall. The frayed rope snapped clean, enabling him to clear the top of the fence. The hand loop of the lead freakishly caught the top of the bearing pole and stopped him a full two feet from the ground. As his body slammed against the chain link fencing, the spaniel’s legs flailed at the air while he struggled to free himself. His eyes stared upward at the leaden sky, wide and glazed with terror.
“Nooooo.” Maggie didn’t waste a second. She ran as quickly as she could with the thick snow tugging at her legs. She stumbled into to the kennel wall, wrapped her arms around Taddy, and lifted him up a few inches while pressing their weight against the fence to strengthen her hold.
“Papa! Help!” Tears of panic and the spaniel’s burgeoning weight choked her breath. Maggie didn’t know how long she was there or how many times she screamed for her father before she saw him running toward the kennel from the side of the house. When he reached them, he tore the glove from his left hand with his teeth and grabbed the dog with his right arm. Lifting him up from Maggie’s grasp, Papa unfastened the lead hook from Taddy’s collar with his bare hand. Maggie knelt down with her father he as gently placed the quivering form on the blanket of white between them.
Miraculously, Taddy was unhurt. He scrambled to stand, unsteady at first like a new-born colt. He coughed and gave his body a fierce shake. Seconds later, he rose up on his hind legs, firmly placed his front paws on Maggie’s shoulders and covered her face with wet, dribbled kisses.
“Taddy!” Maggie giggled with surprised delight as she squinched her eyes and tenderly snuggled her face against the spaniel’s warm neck.
Papa gave huge sigh of relief. “You saved Taddy’s life Mags…you were wonderful and very brave.” He leaned forward and gave her a quick kiss on her forehead. “I think we should keep Taddy away from that kennel for the time being. I still have to finish shoveling at the front of the house.”
Maggie grinned. “Okay…c’mon Taddy!”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the Brittany darted after his young mistress and happily scampered alongside her in the snow, his little stubbed tail wagging like a miniature propeller.
“Watch this,” Maggie called to her father. Taddy buried his muzzle in the snow, trying to pick up a scent, and then snorted as he shook tiny ice-baubles from his nose. Lifting his head upward, he watched Maggie in alert stillness as he eagerly waited for her to toss a frozen snowball into the air.
“I’ll be darned,” Papa thought, and laughed warmly at their bright resilience. The lead wasn’t necessary as the spaniel never left Maggie’s side. When she made a snow angel, he would lie on his back beside her and roll about in the icy white as if miming playful commands. The pair was a happy jumble of white, auburn and red, bobbing and jumping in the snowy playground amidst blissful yips and giggles.
The sun finally broke through the granite sky and smiled down on the trio. The snow glistened with promise. Papa scooped up the icy flakes with the hands from his boyhood that had touched the mysteries of life as sure and as fleeting as the new-fallen snow. The shoveling could wait. He walked over to Maggie and Taddy, and joined them in the gift of this brief winter morning that would forever live in their hearts.
The Maggie & Papa Series
This is the second story in the Maggie and Papa series. There is one story for each season in this year of Maggie's life, which is the year she lost her mother. Each season seems like a year for little Maggie, as seasons are much longer in the passage of time for young children. Autumn is the first in this series; The Falling Year.
© Copyright 2010 by Genna East. All rights reserved.
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