The tradition goes back to the first Christmas I remember. I had just turned three years old. Early Christmas morning, my brother and I had crept into the living room to see what Santa had left in our stockings, but we got caught and told to stay in the hallway.
Pa and Ma disappeared for a moment, and then came back with funny smiles on their faces. Pa handed us a string to pull. “Gently,” he said. The string wiggled and pulled a little, then went slick. At the end of the string waddled a small brown and blond fluff ball with snow white feet and legs.
Boots we called her, a shepherd mix from the local shelter ─ the dog that defined our early childhood. She was with us as we moved to Lake Tahoe to escape my brother’s asthma. Together we three skied off people’s roofs in 16 feet of snow and got lost in the changed landscape and buried logs on the hills to make mini ski-jumps.
In the summers we swam the cold waters of Tahoe by getting in quick, and swimming hard until the water felt like pure silk.
One night Boots waited at the post office until dawn, and then headed down the right road at Tahoe City, when we finally realized why she was missing that night. When we moved to Hayward, Calif., she befriended the neighborhood German shepherd and learned to hunt gophers with Oscar, a calico cat my brother found under the schoolhouse. If the cat missed the first pounce, Boots would dig and secure the meal they shared. If it was a mole, they left it on the back porch for us humans.
Those 40 acres were her domain for many years, until my brother went off to college. Then her age betrayed her, as it will for most of us, but she died quickly, leaving us with a loving legacy of happy memories.