• Sat. Apr 17th, 2021

Christmas: A Nun, a Terrorist Poodle and a Lonely String of Garland

By SUSAN DROMEY HEETER, InDepthNH.org

Last week I came across a picture from the early ‘70s of my cousins, my grandmother, her dog and her sister, my great aunt. 

There is a sad looking piece of garland hanging in the living room so I believe it must have been around Christmas. Or, quite possibly it is March or April; as with so many kids around, taking down the decoration was often postponed.  Yes. The decoration.

Alas, I muse joyfully on Christmas, on family of the early ‘70s, on Gretel the poodle, on one piece of garland.

My grandmother, Gertrude, sits with the aforementioned Gretel.  Gretel was not a fan of children and nipped us when we went to pet her or even ventured within a few feet.

I believe my grandmother was relieved, no need to share her precious dog with anyone, this creature offered her pure love and devotion. Gretel offered us only her teeth, a growl. We’d have delighted in dressing her in our dolls’ attire, making her dance, rubbing her belly. But, in my recollection, I touched Gretel once, maybe twice. I quite possibly still have the scar.

Grandmother had raised eight children, had over 40 grandchildren. Her poodle Gretel was far less demanding, asked only for a place to snuggle, some chicken, a pat on the head.  Gretel served her mistress as a fortress, keeping away little hands and faces, keeping away unwanted talking, questions, requests. 

Susan Dromey Heeter, Joyful Musings

In the photo, I sit in the midst of cousins, we spent most time together scavenging for candy, playing, laughing and trying to figure out who Aunt Agnes, Sister Mary Jean, was. Sister Mary Jean sits to the left of my grandmother.  Sister Mary Jean was a Sister of Saint Joseph, a nun, and always seemed a little confused when around all of her great nieces and nephews.  We were confused as well – never sure whether to call her Aunt Agnes or Sister.  To this day, I still don’t know. 

But I do know, had she taken that habit off, my cousins and I would have had a great time trying it on, imitating and laughing about all of the SSJs we knew.  Sadly, it never left her head.

And then, the garland. As I look around my house right now, I see a plethora of lights, of color, of Christmas cheer. But looking back at that lonely piece of garland in my childhood home, I think – hey, there was something to be said about keeping it simple. And, God knows, all those kids broke every Hummel we ever had, so why would anyone bother putting up decorations that would transform into dolls, weapons, jewelry.  I do remember using lights as a necklace – and those bulbs were hot; the large, colorful glass ones.  I’m surprised I don’t still have the scars from the burns.

As I look back on this picture, on Grandmother, my cousins, Sister Mary Jean SSJ, Gretel the terrorist poodle, that lonely piece of garland, I muse joyfully on laughing still, on litters of cousins, on a home that carried not so much stuff but laughter and silliness – the best decoration of all.

And If you’ve got a piece of garland, embrace its simplicity. If you’ve got some laughter, some memories, some cousins, oh, dear Joyful Musers, you have more than enough.

Merry December.

Susan Dromey Heeter is a writer from Dover who recently let her hair go au natural white. Writing has been her passion since her English majoring days at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  Dromey Heeter has lived in The Netherlands, Alaska and currently basks in all things New England, including the frigid winters. An avid swimmer, Dromey Heeter’s great passion is to bring back body surfing as most children have no idea how to ride waves without ridiculous boogie boards.