A Fitzgerald Christmas Story
The friendly beasts making holiday mischief
I think it was Christmas of ’95 when the neighbor’s cat ate our turkey.
True, we had already given that bird a run for his money at Christmas dinner, so it wasn’t that the cat burglar ate an entire turkey. He just ate (sob) all our leftovers. It was a cold day and the fridge was already stuffed with casserole leavings, so Barb had put the remains of the turkey onto the back porch until it was time for hot turkey sandwiches that evening. But sadly, someone had gone outside and left the back screen door ajar, and the huge gray tomcat that lived next door had invited himself in for a feast. When he told the story years later to his offspring, I imagine he began with, “They just don’t make birds that size anymore.”
It was a scene that might have come out of the movie, A Christmas Story – bones and shreds of turkey breast everywhere, aluminum foil all over the floor, an errant wing rejected, a bony neck cast aside and, sitting contentedly but wisely close to the exit door, cleaning his paws, one very large gray tomcat. If he could have burped, he would have.
I don’t think I’ve wailed more than two or three times in my life, but Barb swears that I wailed that night. I remember that I had my soft white bread already on my plate, a newly warmed portion of the world’s best dressing alongside, and gravy heating on the stove, only to discover that the Christmas turkey had once again bought the farm.
Another Bird, Another Christmas
So many of our “special” Christmas memories have involved pets, like the year I came home for lunch on Christmas Eve and released our parakeet from his cage so he could get a little exercise flying about the house. That was something we did pretty often (after putting our two cats in the basement), and he always came back to the cage when he tired out. That day, Budgie did not come back and, in fact, he disappeared.
This was not just any parakeet, mind you. Budgie spoke three languages (okay, two words in one, three in another and a fair amount of English). He would cuddle under your neck without an invitation and sit on your shoulder as you worked at the computer – for hours. He knew his name and blew kisses. When I couldn’t find him, I panicked.
After an extended search, I was starting to fear that he had somehow gotten out of the house. Up the chimney? Through a vent? I sat down in the living room to consider the possibilities and contemplate the trauma of calling Barb at work when I suddenly heard him singing. There in the Christmas tree, situated among all the bird ornaments – a feathered redbird, two little snowbirds, a white dove and (I can’t explain this) a flamingo – there sat a little blue parakeet, chirping his heart out to his cardboard compatriots. Whew!
Then there was the year Barb decided to handmake (or handbake) a bunch of Christmas ornaments. She hung them proudly from that year’s beautiful fir, only to have the dog eat them and throw up on the tree skirt. (The same dog another year opened a couple of the little doors on the advent calendar and ate four Mary Janes.)
In recent years (with dog, bird and neighbor’s cat somewhere over the rainbow), our two current cats are more containable. We now hang all the glass bulbs way up high, have nothing edible on the tree, and the entire bottom of the tree is decorated with unbreakable ornaments. The cats love to bat them off and around and that’s no problem.
Of course, this new plan gives me no cover at all when, walking past, I sideswipe the tree at some point and break one of the prized decorations, or when I raid the turkey carcass in the night and eat the last of the white meat. Alas, now there’s only the male jerk gene to blame.
Randy Fitzgerald is the author of Flights of Fancy: Stories, Conversations and Life Travels with a Bemused Columnist and His Whimsical Wife, published this fall. He was a longtime public relations director at the University of Richmond and columnist for The Richmond News Leader and later the Richmond Times-Dispatch and taught modern American literature at Virginia Union University. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.