by Maisie Smith on December 18, 2014
Getting chased down a driveway by a pack of frenzied dogs five days before Christmas was not part of the plan. It should have been an easy drop… set the cookies on the doorstep, ring the bell and run like hell.
We had spent the entire day in the kitchen decorating goodies. It was the highlight of the holiday season for my two brothers and myself. Each year, we’d whittle down a list of families to deliver treats to and then go to painstaking lengths not to get caught delivering our homemade Christmas cheer. We were not averse to hiding in brambly bushes, scaling small walls and blending into the shadows like pint-sized ninjas. Do. Not. Get. Caught. That was the only rule to remember. Over time, we became masters of the sprint (which, as most experts will tell you, is all about the arm pump).
It was strange that the Parkers made the cut for treats that year. With biased benevolence, we’d typically choose poor families who actually “deserved” our crappy cookies. The Parkers? They were the richest people we knew. They probably had oodles of cookies pouring out of every cupboard in their marble kitchen. Heck, they probably ate cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
That evening, with foil-wrapped plates in hand, we piled into the orange and white family Vanagon and zoomed off into the chilly night. A tangible buzz crackled the air. Clandestine missions had a way of effortlessly amping us up. My brothers and I volleyed advice back and forth to each other at a million miles a second, covering all known scenarios that could possibly happen that evening.
Except for one.
The Vanagon eventually inched to a stop on the shoulder of a country road. Dad cut the engine. Filing out of the sliding door, we stood in a row to get our final instructions. “Try to not let anyone see you and run as fast as you possibly can once you ring the doorbell.” Nodding, we traipsed off into the dark.
The thing about being rich is that you can afford long, uphill driveways… the kind where three children trekking up it will get tired and start griping about pinching shoes and forgotten gloves. Two-hundred yards can stretch on for almost an eternity.
We eventually reached the circular pavers at the top of the driveway and hid behind the first thorny bush to make our final plan. Looking through the wall of windows and into the grand foyer of the house, we saw the most magnificent Christmas tree ever: soaring, regal, decorated in gold and red like something out of our coveted Sears catalog, with piles of presents underneath. The grandeur was captivating, especially to a cluster of children hiding in the dirt twenty feet away.
“Oh, man!” my older brother whispered. He called the shots and his voice spiked with a mix of marvel and anxiety. We sat staring for a few seconds longer before I blurted out, “Let’s just do it!” The more we sat there shivering and gawking like Oliver Twist a la 1983, the more complicated things would get. We approached the front door in a train of giant tiptoe steps. Without warning, the motion-activated lights flipped on, illuminating us like a pack of deer caught in the headlights. My pounding heart zigzagged its way up into the space between my ears and I could feel my younger brother’s fingernails dig into my arm, through my coat.
We were five feet away from making the drop when the faint echo of barking dogs infiltrated our ears. Time to panic. My brother threw the paper plate on the doormat, the crude snowmen cookies peeking out from the edge in a desperate attempt to escape their tin foil confines. Always the pro, he remembered to ring the doorbell before yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” We shot off into the night, running for our puny lives down the dark, twisting driveway. The sound of clamoring dogs resonated through the crisp winter air, their choir of barks getting louder. Louder. LOUDER.
“Faster!” I shouted, grabbing my younger brother’s hand to pull him along, our feet in ill-fitting shoes tripping along the pavement. Coats were flapping in the wind, our spindly little legs churning faster than they ever had before, our breath forming locomotive puffs in the air.
At the bottom of the hill, Dad stood next to the Vanagon. No doubt he must have been startled to see his children, aged 6, 8 and 10, come running full tilt out of the darkness, their eyes maniacal, with three or four dogs on their tail. Scrambling, he opened the sliding door as we dove for safety. I was sure that one of the dogs would leap in as well and annihilate us all.
The door slammed shut and we were alone in a messy pile on the hard plastic floor. The three of us looked at each other with wild, glittery stares that silently celebrated the most fantastic “holy crap” moment ever. Dad started up the bumbling engine and we slowly pulled onto the road, picking up speed as the blissful holiday glow of the Parker’s home disappeared in the rearview mirror.
• • •
A while back, someone asked about my favorite Christmas memory. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a toy received or a trip to Grandma’s house. Or even the time I was caught in a raging snowstorm on a rural road somewhere in Oregon, surviving on Corn Nuts and Sunkist in an effort to make it home by Christmas Eve.
It was running from dogs.
To making memories and eggnog,
Got a favorite holiday memory you’d like to share? I’d L-O-V-E to hear about it in the comments.