Marianne - Author and Historian

An excerpt from Cariboo Christmas:

Image from A Dog Named McClary

A Dog Named McClary

The morning before Christmas Day, now this would be in 1929, our parents decided to go from our place in Forest Grove to Buffalo Creek to check on my aunt. She was a widow and Dad took care of her firewood. Mother decided to go along to take her some canned things and a package of Christmas cookies.

Now, we didn't have a thermometer in those days or anyone on the radio telling us what the weather was going to be like. We just knew how cold it was.

There were five of us kids by then. We slept upstairs, the boys in the far room and the girls in the one with the stovepipe coming up through the floor from the kitchen. That morning the nail heads on our side were thick with heavy frost. We called them snow buttons. In the girls' room a glass of water was solid ice.

Mother had a cast iron pot filled with porridge ready for us on the stove. We could each have a spoon of brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon since it was almost Christmas. Dad checked the fire in the big old cookstove. It would add some warmth to that from the pot bellied stove in the front room.

They left and Margaret assumed command. Now there was a bossy piece of work, that Margaret. She was twelve so she had two years of power over me. She put on Mother's apron over her bib overalls, the one that covered her from front to back so she looked even bigger and bossier. She tied the baby in the highchair and we ate.

Afterwards Margaret assigned chores. She scraped the bit of leftover oatmeal into a pie pan along with scraps from supper the night before. She went out the back door to the woodshed that ran along the back of the house.

There, in a cardboard box from the feed store, turned upside-down with a door cut into the side, was our dog Brownie, a nondescript stray who decided she liked living with us. Brownie had a litter of puppies in there with her. Dad had tucked an old horsehair sleigh rug over the box with a flap over the door, so it was a warm nest.

When Margaret came back in, I'll never forget the look on her face. She had something cradled in her arms. It was a puppy, stiff, with little lines of frost around its mouth. Somehow it had crawled out of the box and had frozen with its face against the rug.

We gathered around, tears starting at the sad sight. The baby stopped banging his wooden spoon. There wasn't a sound.

But Margaret showed her true mettle. She grabbed Mother's cake pan from the shelf behind the stove and laid the puppy in it, opened the oven door and slid the pan into the warm oven, leaving the door open. We stood there in silence, lumps in our throats. What if it was too hot? Or too warm?

Margaret knew what to do. She kept pulling the pie pan out of the oven and turning the puppy over, rubbing his stiff legs. And then she'd put the pan right back in the oven.

Just when we had given up hope and it seemed that the puppy was surely gone, a miracle happened. The puppy twitched. Margaret picked him up and rubbed his legs. He wiggled. His eyes opened. We laughed and hugged each other and jumped around the kitchen and the baby pounded the spoon.

After we had him all thawed out he sat on Margaret's lap, and blinked at all the grinning faces.

"What'll we call him?" one of the little kids wondered.

After a moment Margaret replied, "Well, that's easy. We'll call him McClary, cause that's what saved him."

"What's McClary?" we all asked at once.

Margaret shut the oven door. And there, nice as you please, were the words, McClary Manufacturing Company, all raised up, fancy and shiny from the polishing Mother had done on her beloved stove over the years.

So McClary the puppy became. He was our best and practically our only present that Christmas. As he grew up he became one of the guys. He went camping and fishing, raced alongside our bikes wherever we went and, as far as he knew, he was just one of the boys.

I have to smile now when I think about that day. I'd never tell Margaret then and she's gone now but I sure admired her, how she saved McClary.

And I think about that wonderful kitchen stove that did the job for us.

Ha! Just tell that to your microwave ovens!

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