The Middle Ages: I tossed the Christmas tree, but not the flowers

We planted the poinsettias outdoors, near the mailbox my wife loved. Well, loved might be too strong.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

We tried to extend the potted poinsettias by replanting them in the front flowerbed, near the new mailbox my wife liked. Well, she never actually said she “liked” the mailbox. She just never said she didn’t.

In a long marriage, that passes for gushing.

The little guy protested that poinsettias can be poisonous, which made me think that he’s been reading his Shakespeare after all, because in one of his many stories, the Bard must’ve referred to poisonous poinsettias. That would be the sort of dastardly icon he would savor — a Christmas symbol with the power of death.

“I’m not making a salad with them,” I explained to my son.

“What about the dogs?” he asked.

Oops. I forgot we had dogs.

They’re really not much trouble, except they go in and out about a thousand times an hour, and the 300-pound beagle appears to have his days and nights mixed up, as if an infant.


Seriously, the idiot dog scratches to go out at 2 a.m., then again at 4. It’s a rich life, let me tell you. Instead of hobbies and pursuits, I have these two very needy dogs.

So forget Shakespeare’s chewy-delicious words, and forget my futile attempt at adding a little color to the yard. At the end of the day, I’m just another dad with a couple of dogs and a hole in his favorite walking shoe.

I didn’t even know about the hole till it finally rained. When we woke, the neighbors’ roofs were steaming and you could see your breath. It was the perfect day for a melancholy stroll across our soggy little suburb.

There’s a certain sanctity to a melancholy morning, a backward allure. I take along White Fang, our wolf-dog, who never lets me stay down for long. Bred for snow, a dreary day enlivens her. Like kids, most dogs are upbeat by nature, their most exquisite gift.

And let me just say, a hole in your shoe leads to a wonderful sensation; the cold rain seeps into your sock, then your skin, then ignites the central nervous system itself. Like a firetruck coming up too quickly, or a tongue-flicky first kiss, a hole in your shoe really hot-wires the mind.

“So awesome!” I said when I felt the cold rainwater seep into my shoe, because that’s how I deal with frustration lately: I sarcasm it to death.


White Fang has no shoes, nor sense of sarcasm. She prances through rain puddles and licks at them, as if sampling a hearty porridge. Such a fine way to begin a winter’s morn.

White Fang also accompanied me while I finally took down the Christmas tree, which was harder than I expected, since I had no adult supervision. Even when Posh was sick, she managed to boss us around and make sure the fragile ornaments went in one bin and the cheesy stuff in another.

With 200 big Tupperware containers, and four semi-trailer trucks, putting away Christmas was like moving Detroit to North Dakota.

My late wife reserved one box for the ornaments the kids made in kindergarten, the ones with the torn edges and gap-toothed photos. If there’s ever a fire, that’s the first thing I’m grabbing. The rest of the family photos are somewhere in “the cloud,” as they say, which means we’ll never see them again.

The brittle tree fought me at every turn. It bit at my hands and stung my arms while I de-tangled a million lights. There were also all these scraggly little ornaments whose time had passed; I wanted to toss them but hesitated.

Because somewhere — maybe in another cloud — I sensed someone was watching and would’ve punished me with bad karma and lousy luck if I edited down the ornaments, the ones we’d spent four decades collecting.


Now I’m not sure what more Posh could’ve done to me. I already have a hole in my shoe and a leaf pile of unpaid cancer bills. I’m like the protagonist in a Nicholas Sparks novel, shell-shocked and a little ornery at the dumbest things (such as beagles, the dumbest things ever).

“I once lost an entire weekend in profound grief over a shower curtain,” one reader counseled us, on the pitfalls of losing loved ones.

As I promised many of you, Posh will live on in this column, though — in the busy house she commanded and in all the stars we see in the sky.

Most of all, she will live on in her dazzling daughters and her lanky son, who bounces into a room like Bozo the clown and manages to make me laugh. She even lives on in our ridiculous pets.

Because, even in their worst moments, they are still some level of sensational.

And they are her.

Twitter: @erskinetimes