Smoke Signals Staff

The Smoke Signals staff. Photo by Jim Francis.

“The confusing part is when they bring a perfectly good tree
into the house but I can’t use it for normal dog purposes.”

Watson Armentrout

Watson’s Christmas memories: grousing, grumbling, never-ending family ham

Scott Armentrout
Scott Armentrout

By Watson as told to Scott (the grouser) Armentrout
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I really enjoy what my humans call “the holidays.” It starts with Thanksgiving, has Christmas in the middle and ends with another thing called “The New Year.” I am always up for some new adventure and a whole New Year sounds like the best.

Making it even better is the fact that my birthday is in December. My half-sister Emma’s birthday is also in December. She’s only had one birthday, so this is her first experience with all these big events. I’ve tried explaining it all to her, but you know how difficult it is to get through to children sometimes.

No scraps on the floor

The best part of the hustle and bustle is all the food that drops to the floor. At our house the “Family Ham” arrives just before Thanksgiving. It’s a country ham and we like it thinly sliced.

I position myself slightly to the right of the carver, my human dad, to snap up any morsels headed my way. They hardly ever hit the floor. Emma hasn’t caught on to this positioning technique, and I am not about to tell her. Any ham she gets is a “gimme” tossed by my softhearted dad. I use the same strategy when they carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.    

Grumbling and grousing

grumbling and grousing

The confusing part is when they bring a perfectly good tree into the house, but I cannot use it for normal dog purposes.

What my mom calls the “grumbling and grousing” time begins shortly after Thanksgiving is over. A grumble is what I hear when Little Emma chews up dad’s socks, and I know what a grouse is. One time I flushed a grouse up from some briars in Virginia. But the post-Thanksgiving grouse has no feathers or wings. It comes when Mom asks Dad to fetch boxes of stuff— he calls it something else—up from the basement.

This is the sort of fetching I might be able to do if only I had prehensile toes. There would be lots of treats in it for me— both from my mom who wants the boxes without any fuss and from my dad who is grousing. He would really like it if I could fetch the boxes of stuff for him like I used to fetch newspapers in the morning.

Once the “stuff” is up from the basement, the place is really a mess for a while. The confusing part is when they bring a perfectly good tree into the house, but I cannot use it for normal dog purposes.

It smells nice, and they put lights and other stuff from the basement on it. I have to be very careful that my tail does not knock off the low hanging stuff. I just do not understand why they put that stuff on the tree. Nor do I understand why I cannot use the tree, but I adapt as always.

Watson by sled

“He would really like it if I could fetch the boxes of stuff for him like I used to fetch newspapers in the morning,” Watson mumbled to himself.

Another odd thing is that in the boxes of stuff are lots of papers— not newspapers to read, but other papers with designs and pictures on them. These papers get chopped up and wrapped around other boxes that are put under the tree with all the stuff hanging on it. Mom and Dad put some other wrapped boxes into bigger boxes that go to the Post Office for people who live in places called Texas and California. Sometimes I hear these bigger boxes “ . . . should have been ready to mail last week.”

More grousing happens

More grousing happens while Dad takes the empty boxes back to the basement, but I ignore it because there are good things going on in the kitchen. I position myself in a spot for catching cookies when they come out of the oven. These are people cookies, not dog cookies, and they are very good. I cannot eat them when they are hot, and I know never to stand up on the counter, which I could do very easily, and snatch them. Emma would, but she’s too short.

When the little humans eat cookies, they always drop pieces and I am there for those treats too. This year they made and decorated a house and a chapel of gingerbread. The gingerbread was way too hard for humans to eat but I could have crunched it up if only they had given me a chance. I did get some gumdrops that fell off the counter when the little humans were decorating the house.

On Christmas Eve, the grousing stops for a while, and the humans all go off to church. Peace and quiet return. Next comes Christmas Day and it is very confusing to me. The nice papers that are not newspapers get torn up and thrown away. People get presents, and so do Emma and I.

Waton and Emma

Emma surprised me her first Christmas by not tearing up the paper. She is a year old now and has learned a good many of the dog etiquette lessons I have been teaching her. 

Sometimes the grousing returns — “These children don’t need all these things.”. I just lie low and check to see if there is any food hitting the floor midst all that paper. 

After Christmas Day, things calm down for a while. Of course, the Family Ham is still around, and I keep a keen eye out for scraps. Often there are oysters— something I do not care for. Good thing, as they are very hard to open. Humans do it with a pointy knife at our house. My dad doesn’t let many humans try to open oysters, as he doesn’t want to be interrupted by having to take someone to the hospital to have a hand patched up. If someone hurts himself and bleeds on perfectly good oysters that really makes him mad. One of my dog friends says that at his house they put oysters in a warm oven to open. At our house oysters have to be like dogs’ noses—cold.

Never-ending family ham

It is quiet for a few days, and then comes another hullabaloo called the New Year and our Family Ham is pretty skimpy. Soon there will be nothing left but the ham bone. Now you might think they would give that to me, but no, the ham bone is turned into soup. Some people think that’s the best part.

After the New Year and many, many football games, comes something called Twelfth Night and the return of the grumbling and grousing. The “stuff” is put back in the boxes and returned to the basement.

It seems as if every year there is more stuff, or at least that’s what my dad says. Then they take the tree back outside where it belongs. As usual, I just lie low. Emma can stand to take a lesson from me.

Ed. note Watson Armentrout was the first four-legged correspondent for Smoke Signals. He learned the newspaper trade literally from the ground up, having fetched daily papers from the yard (sometimes the neighbors’ yards also) into his family kitchen as a youngster in Baltimore, Md. and then in Big Canoe.  This ended when home delivery of the AJC was terminated here.   Upset by the lack of a morning paper to fetch, Watson set about to entice another newspaper, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, to begin home delivery here - an effort that did not succeed. He then turned to writing for Smoke Signals.

Watson was a keen observer of random matters which aroused his curiosity including unusual college mascots, peculiar human behaviors, etc.   Occasionally Watson served as an adjunct professor of Canine Composition at the Iowa Writers Workshop in Iowa City where his classes were well attended.

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