Buxton lives with my youngest daughter Caroline and her boyfriend Robert. I say he lives with them rather than he belongs to them, because in this relationship between two people and their pet, it’s not really clear who belongs to whom.
Caroline and Robert are young, ambitious, and they are good at many things, but training Buxton is not one of them. They’re like those parents who try to be their child’s best friend. They don’t scold Buxton so much as they plead with him. It’s a hard thing for me to watch without commenting. Caroline confided that Buxton never seems to learn anything after a good talking-to. She seemed genuinely puzzled.
Caroline and Robert came to spend Christmas with us this year, and they brought Buxton with them. Apparently there are no dog boarding facilities near their home in northwest Arkansas. After they put their luggage and other things away, we fixed some drinks and sat down to a nice visit. While we talked, Buxton explored his new surroundings, sniffing every nook and cranny in a very hound-like fashion. Then he had an accident on the floor. Robert was quick and efficient with the paper towels, and I got the impression this was something he had practiced a lot.
With the mess cleaned up, things quickly got back to normal, and we returned to our drinks and conversation. During a lull I went into the kitchen to refresh my glass, and I stepped in a large puddle of water. At first I thought the dishwasher might have overflowed, but then I noticed most of the water was within a few feet of the drinking bowl we had put out earlier for Buxton. I asked Caroline to come look at it, and she confirmed the mess was the result of Buxton’s normal drinking habits, and she assured me it was nothing to worry about. She also warned me he would drool profusely on the floors and furniture for the next hour or so, and that was normal, too.
The next morning we opened some of our Christmas gifts, and Buxton was reasonably well behaved, although he did clear the room on one occasion with an unpleasantly potent discharge of gas.
At eleven o’clock Georgia arrived, laden with presents and wine and a plate of home-made cheese balls. Georgia is my oldest child. She put the cheese balls on the kitchen counter while we continued with our gift exchange.
In all my life, I’ve never seen anything that makes a group of people happier than opening Christmas presents, and this year was no exception. At one point the giggles and shrieks became so boisterous that my wife finally had to tell me to take it down a notch. For a few glorious minutes, as wrapping paper flew in all directions, Buxton was all but forgotten. It proved to be a big mistake. I was tearing into a package of new underwear when I glanced up just in time to see him snatch a cheese ball off the kitchen counter and swallow it whole.
Buxton’s bad manners caused an uproar, and a barrage of shouts and epithets were flung at him. He hung his head in shame, his big eyes filled with what we mistakenly thought was remorse, and we all believed he had taken the scolding to heart and would be a better house-guest for it.
Around two o’clock the dining room table was set with china and crystal, signaling that the long-awaited Christmas meal was at hand. The kitchen counter was arrayed with roast turkey, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, a broccoli-cheese casserole, cranberry sauce, a fruit salad and golden dinner rolls. The aromas were intoxicating. We decided that Buxton’s sensitive nose had to be in over-drive, and he could never be trusted around so much food, so he was sent to the basement, where we have a kennel just his size. He protested by barking incessantly, making conversation at the dinner table almost impossible. Eventually he wore us down, and Robert was sent to release him.
My favorite part of Christmas, and Thanksgiving, too, for that matter, are the lazy hours after the big meal, when the leftovers are put away and the dishwasher quietly hums in the kitchen. I had just settled into a comfortable chair, ready to snooze away the rest of the afternoon, when I heard a peculiar noise coming from the living room. All hell broke loose when we realized it was Buxton vomiting up his lunch. While people rushed frantically about for paper towels and carpet cleaner, Buxton slunk away to another room and threw up three more times.
At this point I began to worry we wouldn’t have enough paper towels to get us through the night, and I was also becoming somewhat annoyed with Buxton, but I didn’t want to be accused of ruining yet another Christmas, so I held my tongue. It was not easy, but by then Caroline and Robert were beyond mortified, so laying more guilt on them would not have served any useful purpose anyway.
Later that evening we ate turkey sandwiches, and afterward Caroline and Robert took Buxton to the basement, where they spent the rest of the night. The next morning they got up unusually early to begin their journey home, so we said our goodbyes and saw them off. In my parting words to Buxton I told him he had exceeded my expectations. Robert actually said, “I hope you mean that in a good way.” I thought this would be another good time to hold my tongue, so I pretended I didn’t hear him.
At mid-morning I went down to the basement and found, in a corner next to a wall, four more places where Buxton had upchucked on the carpet. As I was on my hands and knees cleaning it up, I saw wood splinters in some of the spots. I have yet to discover which piece of our furniture Buxton ate that made him sick, but I’m fine with it remaining a mystery forever.