Christmas Gifts: Delivering on a Promise - The Fisherman

Christmas Gifts: Delivering on a Promise

In a time of giving be careful of what you promise as fulfilling such commitments can come at a cost, one way or the other.

Christmas in July is more than wishful thinking, but for me it was a beginning. There never was a puppy under my Christmas tree but it was not from any lack of prayers or a tireless yearning for a canine companion. With few exceptions every one of the dog-eared sporting magazines I perused contained stories and numerous photos and illustrations of boys and their dogs, however my attempts to emulate them caused me considerable disappointment. I don’t recall exactly how many, but it was more than a few free ranging, lost or castoff dogs that I put the noose on and dragged to my house. I tied the frightened animal up to the porch and went in to get mom to show her the dog that followed me home. Despite my persistence it always played out the same: Mom insisted that I untie the captive animal that usually ran off, never stopping to look back. I never did get a puppy or an adult dog, but I shared Whitey, a jet-black mutt, with my friend Russ and that faithful companion followed us through hell and high water.

The boy loved to fish and wanted nothing more than to spend the entire two weeks fishing for stripers on his family’s vacation to Sakonnet.
The boy loved to fish and wanted nothing more than to spend the entire two weeks fishing for stripers on his family’s vacation to Sakonnet. He had been catching stripers since the age of four and when he was in New England he got to spend two delightful weeks with the stripers and the puppy he had always longed for.

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and regretfully the promise I made to my grandson about having a puppy of his own has caused me great consternation. As a child who was often disillusioned by broken promises made by adults who had no intention of keeping them, I swore a solemn oath never to make a promise I could not keep. Up until a few years ago I have lived up to that promise, however there was one promise I made hastily—but in good faith—that eventually created an awkward and painful predicament.

The little boy who had learned that his grandfather would never lie to him or make false promises will surely be disappointed by the man who has encouraged him to always tell the truth no matter how painful it might be. One beautiful summer morning in July, the little man and I were walking a beach at Sakonnet and searching for sea glass when he handed me his prized stuffed (he referred to it as “pretend”) dog while he scratched in the sand. Out of the clear blue he looked up at me with those innocent eyes and told me that the one thing he wanted most in the whole wide world was a real live dog. I looked at the little miracle that had come into our lives five years before and told him that I would get him a dog before I went to heaven. I made this impulsive promise knowing there would be consequences. My response appeared to satisfy him so we walked back towards the boat ramp where my son was launching my boat and there was no further mention of any puppy.

Two days later he was back at his New Jersey home and made one of his regular bedtime calls to his grandparents in Massachusetts. After catching up on his baseball game and hockey practice, he took the phone and walked away from his parents and whispered something to me. My grandson asked me how many birthdays I had left. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The gift of a puppy before I left for heaven (I hope) was coming back to haunt me.

A boy and his dog. Casey never lived with him but Lleyton and the little setter knew they were meant for each other.
A boy and his dog. Casey never lived with him but Lleyton and the little setter knew they were meant for each other.

After my conversation with the little guy my son came on the phone and took me to the woodshed. He asked me not to encourage his son with the promise of a live puppy because we both knew there was no way he could possibly own one at this time in his childhood. The community regulations where they live made it difficult to keep a dog, and the fact was there would be no one to care for the animal for long periods of time, while they were away at work and the boy was at his day care. Oh, how I wished they lived closer.

I talked it over with my bride, who was similarly upset about my promise, and asked her what she thought about me getting a puppy and keeping it with us until our grandson’s circumstances changed. She read me chapter and verse and reminded me about being away for days fishing, working the winter shows and numerous travels, which would be difficult, if not impossible with a puppy in tow.

Both our boys grew up with dogs. Charlie had Rebel the big roan-colored male golden retriever that was his shadow and swam with him in the back yard then hunted the marshes and uplands with me. Peter had Widge, a black lab with an affinity for stealing his gloves and shock pointing pheasant and the occasional grouse. We also had Honey, a beagle barking machine and a German shorthaired pointer before Kahn the giant Airedale came to live with us. My grandson has been regaled with stories of these amazing canine family members and has even named a few of his “pretend” animals after them.

I now look back to that mournful period in my lifetime when I felt deserted after my dad passed and I began scouring the streets, shoreline and fields looking for a dog. Strays and free-roaming household pets who had won a chance at freedom were no challenge for a boy desperate for a friend. On the other hand, my grandson’s dilemma was the result of promising something that I had every intention of fulfilling but was unable to follow through in the immediate future; it was a most unpleasant and frustrating situation.

“I’ll be waiting for you when you return.”
“I’ll be waiting for you when you return.”

I’m well aware that we can’t always have what we want, but to take that one step further if we gave our children everything they asked for we would be making a much more serious mistake. I know some parents who are guilty of this because on their part it’s nothing more than an attempt at buying their children’s affection or distracting the children so the adults can have more private time. After that last conversation about my gift puppy he never mentioned my promise again, but I knew he had not forgotten it.

My parents never lied to me, and never promised more than they could deliver, yet as I was growing up I was thrust into an adult world where deceitful promises were used to gain immediate favors. That Christmas, which seems so long ago, our grandson joined us for our annual winter pilgrimage to the Cabela’s super store in Hamburg, Pennsylvania where he fed the fish and perused the wild game dioramas of mountain, forest and plains animals. Before we left we hiked to the upper level to the large collection of stuffed animals of all, types, sizes and breeds. I tell my little man to take his pick then revisit the memory of our visit to a breeder where a litter of 4-week-old lab puppies climbed all over him creating as much pure joy as I’ve ever seen. I recalled the smile on his face and the look in his eyes and wonder what I was thinking when I made my impromptu promise. I didn’t give Lleyton a puppy that Christmas, but a miraculous opportunity visited me that spring.

I never made an explicit attempt to acquire a puppy, but one came to me, in, of all places a church rectory. I came home with Casey, a beautiful 2-month-old, purebred Mahoney Setter, and was prepared for the prospect of alienating my family. I was resigned to pay that price; and prayed my family would forgive me. Casey lived with us for nine wonderful years, capturing the hearts of everyone she met. She spent a great deal of quality time with her intended master at his home then summer vacations, holidays and visits, with us here on the river. In hindsight I have few regrets about my decision because after being astonished and justifiably upset my family provided me the opportunity to repair my reputation.

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