It was much like an old Charlie Chaplin movie. Mother was still in her nightgown with her ski jacket unzipped and her boots unlaced. She was outside floundering around in circles, trying to catch up with our dog, Jenny, always a few feet ahead of her. Once, Jenny stumbled into a deep drift, and I thought the chase was over. Instead, Mother disappeared up to her waist in the same drift just as Jenny struggled to her feet again.
“What are you laughing at, Missy?” Dad asked, coming up behind me and rubbing his eyes and yawning. It was Thanksgiving morning, and all of us had slept late except Mother.
The smooth white snow behind our house was now covered by big squiggles, as though a fox-and-geese track had lost its way.
Mother caught up with Jenny at last. We saw her staggering toward the house with the large furry bundle in her arms.
“She’ll catch her death of cold!” exclaimed Dad. “It’s well below zero out there!” Dad was wide awake now, and he went bounding down the stairs to open the door for Mother. Soon I smelled bacon frying. Dad always cooks breakfast on weekends and holidays, and my brothers and I take turns doing the dishes.
When I went into the kitchen, Jenny was lying in an exhausted heap in the doorway. She didn’t even stir when I patted her and said, “How are you doing, old girl?” Jenny’s a black and white springer spaniel, nearly fifteen years old. She’s blind and almost deaf too.
“That poor dog completely loses her sense of direction in the snow,” Dad said. “I’m afraid it really is time she was put to sleep.” He poured out five glasses of orange juice. “Talking of sleep, you’d better wake Bruce and John. If they’re going skiing, they ought to get moving.”
The boys ate quickly. “We’ll head for home the minute the lift closes,” Bruce promised. “You can have the turkey ready any time after five o’clock.” He and John got up from the table and started to leave.
“Hey! It’s your turn to do the dishes,” I exclaimed.
“Don’t worry, Missy, you and I will do them together,” Dad said. “No squabbling on Thanksgiving Day!”
But Mother shooed us out of the kitchen, saying that she was in a hurry to get the turkey ready for the oven.
“What can I do to help?” I asked.
“You can keep an eye on Jenny for me,” Mother replied. “She’ll probably need to go out again soon, and we don’t want her wandering off a second time.”
“OK, Mom.” I watched Jenny feel her way toward her favorite spot in front of the living room fireplace. Each time she bumped into something, I cringed. Maybe Dad’s right, I thought. Maybe she’s not enjoying her life anymore. But surely we can keep her with us a little longer if we take good care of her.
Seeing that she was about to go to sleep again, I went up to my room to read. I’d just reached an exciting part of the book when I heard Jenny whimpering. Reluctantly, I got off the bed and went down-stairs to let her out.
“Don’t leave her outside long,” Mother warned. “The weather seems to be changing.”
About an hour later I finished the last chapter and looked out the window. It was snowing hard. Suddenly I remembered Jenny. Is she still outside or did someone let her in? I raced downstairs. She wasn’t in the living room or the den. Mother was still working in the kitchen. “Where’s Dad?” I asked.
“He went somewhere in the jeep,” Mother replied, switching on the electric mixer.
Quietly I opened the front door, hoping to find Jenny waiting on the step. She wasn’t there.
Slipping quickly into warmer clothes, I went outside. Jenny’s tracks showed up clearly in the fresh snow. I followed them around to the back of the house.
Half an hour later I was still searching for her. I no longer had any idea where she might have gone, for she had evidently wandered in circles, and her tracks had merged with those of other dogs. The snow was coming down thicker now, and the wind was blowing it into my eyes, making it difficult to see. My fingers and my toes were freezing, and my whole face was stiff from the cold. I decided to go back home and get help, even though it meant Mother and Dad would know that I was responsible for Jenny being lost.
Neither of them said a word of reproach. I wanted to start out again at once, but Mother made me drink some hot soup while she telephoned the neighbors. The soup was comforting, but the thought of Jenny lying half-buried in a snowdrift somewhere brought tears to my eyes.
“Don’t worry, Missy.” Dad patted my shoulder. “If none of the neighbors has seen her, I’ll take the jeep out and find her.”
Mother came back into the kitchen. “No one has seen her, but they’ve all promised to keep their eyes open.”
“Come on, Dad, let’s go!” I pleaded.
Dad drove very slowly while we both strained our eyes to catch sight of anything moving in the snow. Every now and then Dad would stop the jeep and we would search on foot. I was terrified that I might stumble upon Jenny’s lifeless body.
I almost cried again. Jenny had been a part of our family since before I was born. I couldn’t imagine life without her.
When we’d been gone about two hours, Dad looked at his watch. “The boys will be home by now,” he said. “I think we’d better go back. She wouldn’t have come this far anyway.”
Neither of us spoke as we climbed stiffly out of the jeep. I was praying desperately that Jenny had somehow found her way home. Instead, Mother said, “Bruce and John came home about an hour ago. They’ve gone to look for Jenny over by that new development. They figure people over there won’t know whose dog it is.”
Granny and Aunt Ruth were in the kitchen with Mother. “She’s wearing her tags, isn’t she?” Aunt Ruth asked.
Sadly I reported, “She’s wearing her rabies tag, but her name-and-address tag came off the last time I brushed her. I forgot to put it back on.”
A spurt of gravel in the driveway signaled Bruce and John’s return. I ran to the door. One look at their faces was enough to tell me they had not found Jenny.
“Perhaps she’ll turn up later,” Mother said, but she didn’t sound very convincing. “Right now there’s nothing more we can do, so let’s try to think of all the things we have to be thankful for. If everyone will wash up, I’ll bring you some hot cider to drink by the fire while I add the finishing touches to dinner.”
How heartless grown-ups are, I thought. Dad and Aunt Ruth were discussing a TV program they had both seen. Grandma was busy winding wool yarn with Bruce’s help.
John and I sat staring at the fire without speaking. I didn’t know exactly what he was thinking, but I was sure he wasn’t feeling very friendly toward me. He and Jenny had been born within a few months of each other.
Suddenly I had an idea. “Did you go to the Roberts’s place?”
“No. Why should we have? Mom said she’d called all the neighbors.”
“The Roberts moved, and the new people don’t have a phone yet. One of the kids is in my class, and I heard her complain that they have to wait two more weeks for one.” I was already halfway to the door.
“I’ll come with you,” John offered.
I wanted to say no, because I had lost Jenny and it was up to me to find her, but I realized that John was as miserable as I was.
It was dark outside now. The snow had stopped, and a few stars were appearing.
“Didn’t you come by here this morning?” John asked, as I rang the doorbell.
“Yes. No one was home.”
The door opened and Betsy, the girl in my class, said, “Why, hello, Missy.”
“Hi,” I greeted her. “This is my brother John. We’re looking for our dog.”
“Is she a springer?”
“Yes!” John and I shouted together.
“Come on in. She’s here.”
“Is she all right?” I asked anxiously.
“She is now.” Betsy laughed. “She’s just eaten a huge Thanksgiving dinner!” She led us into a big old-fashioned kitchen. Jenny was lying in front of the warm stove, looking very much at home. She thumped her tail on the brick floor when she heard our voices, but she didn’t get up.
“She’s still tired. When we came home about noon, she was lying in our driveway, and she was covered with snow. She didn’t even lift her head when Dad honked the horn,” Betsy explained.
I fell to my knees beside Jenny and buried my face in her soft fur. Betsy must have brushed her, I realized. Right then and there I silently offered a Thanksgiving prayer.
John thanked Betsy and the rest of her family for their kindness, then turned to me and said teasingly, “Come on, Missy, let’s go! I can’t carry both of you.”
I stammered my thanks to everyone, especially Betsy.
“Think nothing of it,” she said. “I love dogs.”
I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget that Thanksgiving. The dinner might have been a bit overdone, but nobody cared.